Accepted paper:

Kidevu[Beardie]'s return: re-enacting an historical threshold in African science


Paul Wenzel Geissler (University of Oslo)
Ann Kelly (King's College London)

Paper short abstract:

This paper describes a series of historical-ethnographic re-enactment experiments with elderly scientific workers, intended to excavate aesthetic and affective dimensions of the 'past futures' of mid-20th century bioscientific research in an East African research station.

Paper long abstract:

Amani, in the Tanzanian mountains was built in the late nineteenth century as botanical research station. Since, it has been a site of progressive scientific endeavours, pushing the boundaries of botanical, zoological and medical knowledge, and providing expertise and technical capacity for imperial expansion, colonial welfare and national progress. The station's heyday was between 1950s and 70s - a time of global disease eradication campaigns, and of decolonisation and the 'Africanisation' of science. 'Progress' referenced then more than the expansion of knowledge on pathogens and their arthropod vectors, and its translation into civic projects like urban sanitation and disease control. It meant the transformation of the social order and political economy within which this happened, including the reform of personal mores and ethos - from breeches of racial relations to new, prescribed codes of conduct - of linguistic conventions, modes of habitation and domesticity, enactments of gender and class, and the conduct of scientific labour. To recuperate this progressive moment's aestetic and affective dimensions, we brought together scientific workers who had been in Amani in the 1950s-60s, to revisit past scientific endeavours, documented in illustrated scientific papers and personal photographs, and to perform them around the station. These re-enacments, of naturalist collection, control experiments and laboratory modelling, of collaboration and exploration, rendered available habitual movements and tempi, unspoken pleasures and exhaustions, longings and disappointments, and rekindled ethical commitments. Our entanglements in these experiments with anachronicity confronts past scientific promise - discovery, development, radicalism - with a distinctively less progressive present.

panel P44
After development: critical aesthetics of past futures