Bullock's Museum, London.

Knowledge and Empire, c.1760-1965

Tutor: Sabine Clarke

Module type: Explorations

Module Code: HIS00050I

The relationship between science, medicine and technology and European imperialism is both complex and controversial. This course will consider the role of European knowledge systems and practices in facilitating imperial expansion and colonial control from map-making and botanical classification in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to the large-scale development schemes of the twentieth century. Students will be encouraged to assess the relative importance of science, technology and medicine to the success of the imperial project at different moments in history and also the importance of empire for European knowledge systems and medical and scientific practitioners from c.1760.

The course will consider how the knowledge produced of other peoples and other lands by doctors and scientists informed understandings of tropical environments and racial difference at home and also how empire provided opportunities for making careers. In addition this course will consider the issue of the status of indigenous knowledge – both the ways in which local knowledges have been important for European science and medicine and also how historians have attempted to describe and define Western science with respect to other modes of knowledge production. Finally, this course will consider some of the legacies of the relationship between science, medicine, technology and empire for the post-colonial world.

The seminar programme will likely deal with the following:

    • Exploring, naming and classifying
    • The pathogenic tropics
    • The rise of scientific racism
    • The botanical garden, the zoo and the museum
    • Scientific careers in the 19th century
    • Imperial networks: the telegraph
    • The threat to colonial products
    • Developing the great estate
    • The politics of international health programmes

Students will work in small groups to research and write a 3,000 word assignment that weaves together an analysis of selected primary source material with a wider academic scholarship to produce an in-depth examination of themes that arise from the 9 seminars listed above.


For more information, please visit the module catalogue.