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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 relationship between scientific and local, 'indigenous' or 'native' knowledges. Our starting point will be eighteenth-century travel instructions that asked to routinely record indigenous names and knowledge. We explore economic botany and zoology as an important strand 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 an increasingly global awareness and calls for the incorporation of 'traditional' knowledge in political and scientific discourses.

The meetings take place on Wednesdays from 3 to 4pm in Lent and Easter Term 2021 (5 meetings). The organisers are Raphael Uchôa and Staffan Müller-Wille.

Lent Term 2021

20 January: Eighteenth-Century Travel Instructions

  • Carl Linnaeus, 'Instructio Peregrinatorum', in Caroli Linnaei Amoenitates Academicae, Seu Dissertationes Variae Physicae, Medicae, Botanicae Antehac Seorsim Editae Nunc Collectae et Auctae, Vol. 5. Stockholm: Laurentius Salvius, 1759), pp. 298–313. An English translation will be provided.
  • Gascoigne, John. 'The Royal Society, Natural History and the Peoples of the "New World(s)", 1660–1800'. The British Journal for the History of Science 42, 4 (2009): 539–62.
  • Fabian, Johannes. Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002, ch. 1.

17 February: Economic Botany and Zoology in the Nineteenth Century

  • Hooker, William J. 'Botany' in John F. W. Herschel (ed.), A Manual of Scientific Enquiry: Prepared for the Use of Her Majesty's Navy and Adapted for Travellers in General, London: John Murray, (1849): 400–422.
  • Brown, Robert. 'On the vegetable products, used by the north-west American Indians as food and medicine, in the arts, and in superstitious rites'. Transactions of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh IX (1868): 378–396.
  • Pratt, Mary Louise. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. London: Routledge, 2007.

17 March: Birth of Ethno-Science around 1900

  • Harshberger, John W. 'The Purposes of Ethno-Botany'. Botanical Gazette 21, no. 3 (1896): 146–54.
  • Castetter E.F. 'Uncultivated native plants used as sources of food'. Ethnobiological Studies in the American Southwest I, Biological Series 4, no. 1 (1935): 1-44. (= University of New Mexico Bulletin 266, Albuquerque).
  • Osseo-Asare, Abena Dove. 'Bioprospecting and Resistance: Transforming Poisoned Arrows into Strophantin Pills in Colonial Gold Coast, 1885–1922', Social History of Medicine, 21.2 (2008), 269–90.

Easter Term 2021

12 May: Ethno-Science after WWII

  • Ackerknecht, Erwin H. 'Primitive Medicine and Culture Pattern'. Bulletin of the History of Medicine 12, no. 4 (1942): 545–74.
  • Sturtevant, William C. 'Studies in Ethnoscience'. American Anthropologist, New Series 66, no. 3, Part 2: Transcultural Studies in Cognition (June 1964): 99–131.
  • Schultes, Richard Evans and Siri Von Reis (eds.), Ethnobotany: Evolution of a Discipline. London: Chapman & Hall, 1995.

9 June: Recent Reflections and the Ontological Turn

  • Eduardo Kohn, 'Anthropology of Ontologies', Annual Review of Anthropology 44 (1) (2015), 311–327.
  • Ellen, Roy. 'Is There a Role for Ontologies in Understanding Plant Knowledge Systems?', Journal of Ethnobiology 36(1) (1 March 2016), 10–28.
  • Hardison, Preston and Kelly Bannister. 'Ethics in Ethnobiology: History, International Law and Policy, and Contemporary Issues'. In Ethnobiology, edited by E. N. Anderson et al. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2011, pp. 27–49.