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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


'Ethno-Science' is a reading group dedicated to programmatic and critical texts on the changing relationship between scientific knowledge and what is variously called local, 'indigenous' or 'native' knowledges. Our starting point is the eighteenth-century travel instructions that asked naturalists to routinely record indigenous names and knowledge. We explore economic botany, zoology, ethnography, and other strands of nineteenth-century natural history relying on systematic surveys of national and colonial territories, and the eventual consolidation of ethno-disciplines in the twentieth century. The aim is to understand the relationship between reifications and reinterpretations of 'savage', 'indigenous', 'native' or 'primitive' knowledge and corresponding field practices of interrogation and interaction with local informants. We are interested in the putative shifts towards increasingly global awareness and calls for the incorporation of 'traditional' knowledge in political and scientific discourses.

The meetings take place monthly, on Wednesdays from 3 to 4pm on Zoom, in the 2021–22 academic year (7 meetings).

Organised by Raphael Uchôa (ru224) and Staffan Müller-Wille (sewm3).

Please email the organisers if you're interested in joining. Zoom links to follow via email.

Michaelmas Term 2021

20 October: Nineteenth-century travel instructions

  • British Association for the Advancement of Science. Notes and Queries on Anthropology, for the Use of Travellers and Residents in Uncivilized Lands. London, E. Stanford, 1874.
  • Urry, James. '"Notes and Queries on Anthropology" and the Development of Field Methods in British Anthropology, 1870–1920.' Proceedings of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, (1972): 45–57.

24 November: Economic botany in the nineteenth century

  • Nau, Eugène. 'Flore indienne d’Haïti', in Émile Nau. Histoire des Caciques d’Haïti, Paris: Gustave Guérin et cie, Éditeurs, 1894).
  • Reyes, Michael. 'Caribbean ethnobotany before Roumain: Eugène Nau's nineteenth-century contribution to an understanding of the "Indian flora of Haiti"', Caribbean Quarterly 63(4) (2017), 467–483.

Lent Term 2022

19 January: Translations between Field and Lab

  • Bravo, Michael T. The Accuracy of Ethnoscience: A Study of Inuit Cartography and Cross-Cultural Commensurability. Department of Social Anthropology, University of Manchester, 1996.
  • Shmuely, Shira. 'Curare: The Poisoned Arrow That Entered the Laboratory and Sparked a Moral Debate'. Social History of Medicine 33, no. 3 (2020): 881–97.

16 February: Ethno-scientist invited


16 March: Ethno-Science and historiography

  • Tilley, Helen. 'Global Histories, Vernacular Science, and African Genealogies; or, Is the History of Science Ready for the World?' Isis 101, no. 1 (1 March 2010): 110–19.
  • Mukharji, Projit Bihari. 'Vishalyakarani as Eupatorium Ayapana: Retro-Botanizing, Embedded Traditions, and Multiple Historicities of Plants in Colonial Bengal, 1890–1940'. The Journal of Asian Studies 73, no. 1 (2014): 65–87.

Easter Term 2022

18 May

  • Das, Kaushiki. 'The Global Quest for Green Gold: Implications of Bioprospecting and Patenting for Indigenous Bioresources and Knowledge'. Society and Culture in South Asia 6, no. 1 (2020): 74–97.
  • Hayden, Cori. 'Bioprospecting's representational dilemma'. Science as Culture 14 (2005): 185–200.

15 June

  • Pollock, Anne. 'Places of Pharmaceutical Knowledge-Making: Global Health, Postcolonial Science, and Hope in South African Drug Discovery'. Social Studies of Science 44, no. 6 (2014): 848–73.