<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <b>An Imperial Laboratory: Scientific Societies, Geopolitics, and Territorial Acquisitions</b> <p> <p> There is no doubt, that Africa is the New World of the nineteenth century. What America was to Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries[,] that Africa is now. <p> —Harry Johnston, <i>"British Interests in Eastern Equatorial Africa,"</i> 1885 Europeans, driven by motives less disinterested than the love of pure science, but which ultimately serve it, are taking possession of almost the entire continent. A new chapter in the history of African exploration now commences. The division of the continent between the various nations is almost complete; the preliminary exploration of the ground follows in the footsteps of giants; scientific study succeeds it and development (<i>mise en valeur</i>) begins. <p> —Henri Schirmer, <i>"La géographie de l'Afrique,"</i> 1892 <p> <p> In the autumn of 1916, a small group of academics, administrators, and politicians met in London to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the founding of Britain's Royal African Society. Alice Stopford Green, a historian who had played a leading role in the group's creation and who served intermittently on its governing council, declared, "Our society was formed at one of the most critical moments of the world's history; but, important as the African question was then, its gravity has now increased." Amid the unfolding battles and diplomatic confrontations of the Great War, both politicians and social critics had begun to realize that the German territories in tropical Africa might be up for grabs. Green was old enough to remember the Berlin Conference of 1884–85, when the major European powers had laid the groundwork for the imposition of political control and economic exploitation in the African interior. She reminded her colleagues that in the decades leading up to the conference, geographical expeditions and scientific knowledge had played a significant role in shaping imperial ambitions. During that period, Green explained, "a new world was revealed rich in treasures desired by Europe. In Europe, meanwhile, a new idea had grown—the idea of world dominion, now made possible for the first time by the development of science and mechanical arts which had increased a thousand-fold the conception of human power." Green was struck by the sheer magnitude of the imperial undertaking and the speed with which it was completed. "The history of Africa is without parallel.... [The partition] was the first event in the world on that stupendous scale—the beginning of a new age. The revelation of Africa, came at the moment when the notion of World Power swept through Europe. The great experiment was opened on the new continent." <p> In his provocative history of European explorations of tropical Africa during the nineteenth century, Johannes Fabian has echoed Green's analysis and called attention to the intimate connections between knowledge production and territorial conquest. "Geographic space to be discovered and explored [was] turned into a laboratory in which scientific assumptions were to be tested, as well as into a territory that was to be occupied." "And yet," Fabian concedes when examining explorers' efforts at "making knowledge," "during the first encounters they had no frame for their relations. There was no colonial regime, no colony to simulate a laboratory, a place where objects held still and variables could be controlled." The questions implicit in Fabian's and Green's remarks deserve careful examination: How did an entire continent become a laboratory and an empire almost simultaneously? In what ways did the ideas and activities of scientific and learned societies influence the process of projecting imperial power? Which scientific disciplines were involved and what were their driving questions and benchmark ideas? Most centrally, how did concerns about development dovetail with scientific debates and efforts at colonial state building? <p> During what historians call the "Scramble for Africa" and its ensuing conquest—the period from about 1870 to the outbreak of world war in 1914, when the major European powers partitioned the continent between themselves, set up the machinery of trade and rule, and strove to establish effective dominion over Africans—scientific societies' efforts to promote research on Africa were actually uneven and episodic. Before the Berlin Conference, the Royal Geographical Society was the primary institution that took the lead in sponsoring fieldwork and cartographic projects, yet the research fund devoted specifically to Africa that it established in 1877 proved to be short-lived. From the 1850s onward, the British Association for the Advancement of Science included papers on African geography and anthropology at its annual gatherings, but only in 1891 did it create an interdisciplinary standing committee to investigate the "climatological and hydrological conditions of Tropical Africa." Although the Royal Society had sponsored small-scale studies of malaria and disease-carrying tsetse flies in the 1890s, its Sleeping Sickness Commissions launched between 1902 and 1914 represented its first large-scale undertaking within the continent itself. Even the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, which had published its first volume on the <i>Flora of Tropical Africa</i> in 1868 and had joined forces with the British Association in 1883 to send Harry Johnston to Mount Kilimanjaro to study "migrations and modifications of species," had difficulty finding the funds for later volumes. Likewise, the leadership of the Royal Anthropological Institute and the British Museum expressed some interest in African ethnography prior to the 1890s, but it took an outsider to the profession, Mary Kingsley, to popularize the idea that the socio-cultural aspects of African societies deserved greater attention. Her desire to encourage "West African Studies" inspired a handful of social reformers to found the Royal African Society in 1901, which they hoped would "create an interest in Africa, [as] a field for investigation." <p> Scientific societies' desire to gather and produce new knowledge about Africa, especially its vast interior, was thus a relatively recent development that had shallow roots within the continent itself. During a presidential address before Britain's Statistical Society in 1872, the epidemiologist, Sir William Farr, reviewed existing knowledge about the different regions of the world and announced: "Of Africa, statistics knows little or nothing <i>certain</i> ... as yet all Africa is for science a great desert." While Farr was embracing the familiar motif of Africa as a terra incognita, which justified the European imperative of exploration and discovery, he was also drawing attention to the challenges of ignorance and uncertainty. For those who valued accurate and exact knowledge, admitting that important topics remained unexplored and vital questions unanswered carried with it an implicit critique of the geographic limitations of contemporary science. Even more significantly, it encouraged experts to think of Africa as an object of scientific study in its own right. <p> <p> <b>The Scramble for Africa and Its Explanations</b> <p> There is no single explanation for the multiple territorial seizures that occurred across Africa between 1870 and 1914. To paraphrase Paul Kennedy, each annexation must be understood within a far-reaching web of causes. Still, most interpretations of the scramble for Africa tend to privilege certain developments over others, emphasizing economic, diplomatic, technological, military, or ideological factors. From this vast and contentious body of scholarship a consensus has emerged on several key points. Until the 1880s, for instance, many political leaders in Great Britain, France, and Germany were reluctant to pursue formal empires in tropical Africa. Establishing legal political control over territories would require substantial treasury expenditures as well as an extended military commitment; both were difficult for leaders to embrace or promote. The British, in particular, relied on their naval superiority to ward off other powers and enjoyed virtually uncontested dominance around much of the African coastline. Prussia's victory over France in 1871 and the ensuing unification of Germany and Italy altered diplomatic and economic relations across Europe and stimulated challenges to Britain's near monopoly in Africa. The British Empire remained the largest economy, but as its continental counterparts developed their own industrial capacities, the economic center of gravity began to shift. Many countries simultaneously reconfigured their own borders and began to redefine their sense of national and imperial identity. The possibility of new bilateral and multinational alliances generated both international competition and imperial momentum. <p> Before the establishment of effective control of African colonies, trade with most regions of Africa yielded negligible financial returns. Capitalist economies in Europe did not need tropical Africa to sustain them, even during the industrial slowdown that affected many parts of Europe between 1873 and 1896. The most lucrative regions of the continent were at its northern and southern tips—Egypt, Algeria, the Cape, and Natal—which were almost entirely under the control of the Ottomans, French, and British before the center of the continent had been partitioned. While the idea of finding new products and markets in tropical Africa was seductive, in actual fact the bulk of the continent had not yet generated substantial financial returns. "European economies," Trevor Lloyd has observed, "would have gone on perfectly happily even if Africa had never existed." <p> Only in a few areas, such as Ethiopia and Liberia, did Africans possess sufficient organization as well as firearms to deflect military incursions and land confiscations. In most other regions, African polities were unable to prevent or halt the process of conquest, although they had the power to disrupt and transform it. Uprisings, rebellions, and prophet movements with political implications occurred during this period in almost every region of sub-Saharan Africa. Prominent among those that attracted significant attention in metropolitan centers were the Asante wars in the Gold Coast (1874–76 and 1896–1900), the Zulu war in southern Africa (1879), the Mahdist revolt in the Sudan (1881–98), the Ndebele and Shona resistance in Rhodesia (1896–97), the Maji Maji uprising in German East Africa (1905–07), and the Herero movement and massacre in German Southwest Africa (1901–06). Terence Ranger, however, has cautioned against seeing these actions as hostile solely to European invasions, since some also expressed internal critiques of indigenous elites. Prophet and religious movements in particular were "the idiom of profound and perhaps 'revolutionary' challenge to the official orthodoxies of African societies themselves." This period was marked by dramatic realignments of social power across tropical Africa, which diminished Africans' abilities to unite against European conquest. <p> Diplomats and politicians, with few exceptions, paid little heed to the idea that African polities ought to have legal standing on the world stage. Indeed, the notion that non-European peoples in the less developed regions of the world were entitled to national self-determination was not part of their worldview. In the words of one of Britain's leading cartographers, European governments had acted "for the most part, without the knowledge or irrespective of the wishes of the native chiefs and rulers whose lands have been thus apportioned." The absence of African leaders from the Berlin Conference was taken for granted by the participants, and the language of the Berlin Act that followed "irreversibly exclud[ed] any pretensions to sovereignty that indigenous communities might have entertained." The "New Imperialism" of this period was justified as part of a wider "civilizing mission" and was rooted in interpretations of international law that relegated Africans to the position of objects acted upon by Europeans. Paradoxically, the only recognized agency they could exercise was the "right" to give up their sovereignty. <p> European technologies ranging from destructive weaponry to preventive and curative medicine also played key roles in enabling imperial conquest. Philip Curtin and Daniel Headrick have shown that biomedical technologies functioned as "tools of empire"; sanitation measures and quinine, which was used both as cure and as prophylactic, enabled Europeans to survive long enough to subdue Africans. In the mid-nineteenth century, Europeans' death rates from infectious diseases were so high as to prohibit military occupation, let alone long-term settlement. Survival rates for European soldiers gradually improved from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. While the improvements were initially slight, they were still sufficiently visible to make political leaders more willing to bring troops and officials to the tropics. <p> Firearms, steam technologies, and new modes of communication and transport also helped Europeans overcome Africans' resistance to conquest. The Maxim gun was introduced just in time to quell the Ndebele rebellion in the 1890s. Steam engines, railways, and telegraphy made it feasible to administer vast territories and establish outposts of rule in Africa's tropical interior, which had been considered too remote. New technologies assumed even greater significance in Europeans' imaginations, bolstering their belief in human mastery of the natural world and catalyzing utopian visions that were as grandiose as they were beyond reach. <p> <p> <b>"An International Battlefield"</b> <p> On the eve of the Berlin Conference a correspondent for the London <i>Times</i> offered a chilling prophecy: "It is evident that Africa is in danger of becoming a sort of international battlefield. All the other continents have been, more or less, appropriated by races of European origin; Africa cannot much longer escape the same fate." The dramatic partition of the continent's tropical interior differed substantially from the much longer histories of European contact and conquest along Africa's coasts and in its northern and southern regions. The very act of creating vast territorial units de novo, beginning with the Congo Free State and rapidly constituting dozens of others, radically transformed Africa's political landscape and spawned renewed interest in studying the continent's distinctive attributes. <p> In order to understand the role of science, broadly construed, in Africa's partition and early decades of state building, we must consider how learned societies were caught up in this process. Scientists and geographers had long been interested in tropical Africa, but only in the 1870s did that interest gather momentum and coalesce into a genuinely pan-European effort. At the forefront of these activities were geographical societies. In the second half of the nineteenth century, too, bioscientists began self-consciously to scale up their objects of study and refine their methods of fieldwork. The African continent served as an important venue for both endeavors. Significant research had previously been undertaken in tropical Africa during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, particularly in geology, botany, medicine, and zoology, and a few individuals had asked similar theoretical questions about Africa. Yet these antecedents differed from developments at the end of the nineteenth century in both their scope and scale. The rapid growth of geographical societies across Europe between 1870 and 1890 and, in particular, their scientific preoccupations, field expeditions, and entanglements with commercial and juridical concerns affected the pace and timing of partition in tropical Africa. Geographical societies made an essential contribution to the conditions that precipitated the scramble for Africa, acting not in isolation but precisely through their intricate connections with economic, diplomatic, and military forces and their myriad intersections with demographic and cultural concerns. Without them, it is unlikely that Africa would have become a "sort of international battlefield." <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Africa as a Living Laboratory</b> by <b>HELEN TILLEY</b> Copyright © 2011 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.