Science in South Africa – a synoptic history

The history of science and of scientific knowledge in South Africa is a growing field of interest but it remains relatively fragmented. There has been work done on particular disciplines and institutions, on leading scientists, and on the history of exploration. Science, understood as a field of mutual intellectual exchange and cultural interaction, has been pursued in the colonial context. There have been important studies of indigenous African knowledge in the field and ecological sciences, in health and in veterinary medicine. Work has also been done on the role of science in sustaining settler power and white national identity. As yet, however, this literature remains to be unified and conceptualised.

My new project will look closely at aspects of the history of paleontology, rock art, and geology in twentieth century South Africa. It will also take account of the tensions between the pursuit of `big’ science in projects like the Square Kilometre Array and the promotion of African indigenous knowledge systems of thought. This work forms part of a larger collaborative project which aims to draw the existing literature together and produce a comprehensive and comprehensible account of scientific endeavour in South Africa and the region from the 18th century to the present.

Project leader(s):
  • Saul Dubow (Queen Mary, University of London)

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