Project

Back to overview

The Berlin-Cape Nexus: Early Nineteenth-Century German Naturalists in the Cape Colony

Applicant Grogan Patrick
Number 152064
Funding scheme Doc.CH (until 2020)
Research institution
Institution of higher education University of Basel - BS
Main discipline General history (without pre-and early history)
Start/End 01.04.2014 - 31.07.2016
Approved amount 132'537.00
Show all

Keywords (5)

social history of science; commercialisation of natural history; colonial travel and the field sciences; Cape Colony; transnational history

Lay Summary (German)

Lead
Gemeinhin wird suggeriert, dass Naturforschender immer die Produktion von wissenschaftlichem Wissen im Sinn hatten. Durch die Untersuchung der Praktiken deutscher Naturforschender im südlichen Afrika des frühen 19. Jahrhunderts, zeigt diese Untersuchung, wie verschiedene Faktoren - oft weit von dem reinen Streben nach Wissen entfernt - ihre Sammelstrategien beeinflussten.
Lay summary

Inhalt und Ziel des Forschungsprojekts

Zahlreiche Sammler waren am Kap aktiv; jeder eifrig bemüht, von der großen Vielfalt südafrikanischer Flora und Fauna zu profitieren. Deutsche sowie Briten und Franzosen bildeten eine der größten Gruppen von Sammlern und verhalfen führenden deutschen und europäischen wissenschaftlichen Instituten zu zahlreichen Sammlungen. Als Sammler verfolgten sie persönliche, institutionelle und insbesondere kommerzielle Ziele, die von Sammlern eine immer wachsende Beute von Fundstücken forderten. Sammler, die unter Druck standen, ihre Kosten zu decken und sich als bereitwillige, mutige, und begabte Sammler von Raritäten zu beweisen, trieben daher eine oft destruktive Art von Sammeln, die nicht von engen naturwissenschaftlichen Zielen eingegrenzt wurde, sondern von einem unersättlichen Wunsch für möglichst viele pflanzliche, tierische, und sogar menschlicher Überreste getrieben worden ist.

Wissenschaftlicher und gesellschaftlicher Kontext

Durch das Lesen von Archivalien in Südafrika und Deutschland folgt dieses Projekt jüngsten Trends in der Geschichtsschreibung der Naturwissenschaften, die die umfassenden Praktiken der Wissenschaften, die Feldstudien verlangen, näher zu untersuchen versuchen. Die Studie ist auch wertvoll, da im Kontext der Kommerzialisierung der Naturwissenschaften am Kap im frühen 19. Jahrhundert gezeigt wird, wie die Naturwissenschaften als Instrument für persönlichen und instiutionellen Gewinn diente – oft mit zerstörerischen Folgen für die unmittelbaren Umwelt.


 

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 09.11.2015

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
The study of the natural sciences, it is often assumed, is inherently driven by the ultimate goal of producing scientific knowledge. By tracing the activities of German collectors and traders of specimens of natural history in early nineteenth-century southern Africa, this study will aim to show how a range of other factors - often far removed from the pure pursuit of knowledge for its own sake - underlay the practices of contemporary German naturalists in the area.
Lay summary

Theme and aim of the research

The Cape Colony played host to numerous collectors of animal and plant specimens, all eager to profit from southern Africa’s diverse range of fauna and flora. German-speakers, along with their British and French counterparts, represented one of the largest groups of collectors in the colony and supplied numerous collections to leading scientific institutions in their home territories and beyond. As collectors, they were not necessarily driven by scientific goals, but by a range of personal, institutional and, above all, commercial factors which all demanded an ever-increasing haul of specimens. For collectors, these pressures included covering the often significant costs of collecting and proving themselves professionally as willing, daring and able collectors of exotic rarities. As such, collecting, as practiced by the commercial collectors in this study, was of its essence a destructive activity which was not circumscribed by scientific imperatives, but driven by a voracious desire to claim as many plant, animal – and, in some cases, human – specimens as possible.

Academic and social context

Through a reading of archival documents in South Africa and Germany, this study follows recent trends in the historiography of science which have placed increasing focus on understanding the heterogeneous range of practices which constitute the field sciences. In the context of the increasing commercialisation of natural science at the early-nineteenth-century Cape, this project serves as a case study to illustrate how science could be used as a vehicle for channelling aspirations of personal and institutional gain – often with damaging results for the local environment.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 09.11.2015

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Name Institute

Employees

Name Institute

Publications

Publication
German Natural History Collectors and the Appropriation of Human Skulls and Skeletons in Early Nineteenth Century Southern Africa: Towards a Discursive Analysis of Collecting
Grogan Patrick (2015), German Natural History Collectors and the Appropriation of Human Skulls and Skeletons in Early Nineteenth Century Southern Africa: Towards a Discursive Analysis of Collecting, in Arlt Veit, Bishop Stephanie, Schmid Pascal (ed.), Basler Afrika Bibliographien, Basel, 65-69.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Forschungskolloquium zur Geschichte Afrikas Individual talk Zeal, Cruelty, and Commerce: Destructive Collecting Practices among Early Nineteenth-Century German Naturalists in Southern Africa 08.12.2015 Basel, Switzerland Grogan Patrick;
Swiss Researching Africa Days Poster "Early Nineteenth‐Century German Naturalists in the Cape Colony" 17.10.2014 Bern, Switzerland Grogan Patrick;
Workshop: "Science, Race, and Identity in the Global South" Individual talk Natural History Collectors & the Appropriation of Human Skulls & Skeletons: Towards a Case Study of German-led Collecting Expeditions in early Nineteenth-Century Southern Africa 13.10.2014 Basel, Switzerland Grogan Patrick;
Workshop: "The Politics of Nature and Science in African History" Individual talk Ludwig Krebs and Carl Drège: two case studies of early nineteenth-century German collectors of natural history specimens on expedition in southern Africa 15.05.2014 Basel, Switzerland Grogan Patrick;


Self-organised

Title Date Place

Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Media relations: print media, online media Science, Race, and Identity in the Global South H-Soz-Kult International 2014

Abstract

This project explores the local and transnational networks of commerce which emerged through the practice of collecting specimens of natural history in the colonial field. The Cape Colony of the first half of the nineteenth-century serves as a case study, a stage, as it was, to collectors and commercial traders of plant and animal specimens from all over Europe. Particular attention will be placed on German-speaking naturalist-collectors, who provided a particularly rich supply of specimens for metropolitan naturalists. Making use of archival documentation in Germany and South Africa, this project thus explores the links between the German-speaking world and the early nineteenth century Cape Colony, a transcontinental context which will also serve as a valuable case-study for discussing the increasing commercialisation of early nineteenth-century natural science. Although science as practice has often been assumed to be inherently geared towards the ultimate goal of producing universal knowledge, by adopting an approach which follows the everyday strategies and practices of collectors in the field, it will be argued that collecting as practiced by Germans in the context of the early-nineteenth-century Cape was often not only influenced but overwhelmingly driven by real-world social, institutional, cultural, political and above all commercial imperatives far removed from the pure pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.
-