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Global Histories, Vernacular Science, and African Genealogies; or, Is the History of Science Ready for the World?

Helen Tilley
Isis
Vol. 101, No. 1 (March 2010), pp. 110-119
DOI: 10.1086/652692
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/652692
Page Count: 10
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Global Histories, Vernacular Science, and African Genealogies;
or, Is the History of Science Ready for the World?
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Abstract

ABSTRACT Scholars in imperial and science studies have recently begun to examine more systematically the different ways knowledge systems around the world have intersected. This essay concentrates on one aspect of this process, the codification of research into “primitive” or “indigenous” knowledge, especially knowledge that was transmitted orally, and argues that such investigations were a by-product of four interrelated phenomena: the globalization of the sciences themselves, particularly those fields that took the earth and its inhabitants as their object of analysis; the professionalization of anthropology and its growing emphasis on studying other cultures' medical, technical, and natural knowledge; the European push, in the late nineteenth century, toward “global colonialism” and the ethnographic research that accompanied colonial state building; and, finally, colonized and marginalized peoples' challenges to scientific epistemologies and their paradoxical call that scientists study their knowledge systems more carefully. These phenomena came together on a global scale in the decades surrounding the turn of the twentieth century to produce a subgenre of research within the sciences, here labeled “vernacular science,” focused explicitly on “native” knowledge.

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