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Men, Science, Travel and Nature in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth-Century Cape

William Beinart
Journal of Southern African Studies
Vol. 24, No. 4, Special Issue on Masculinities in Southern Africa (Dec., 1998), pp. 775-799
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2637474
Page Count: 25
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Men, Science, Travel and Nature in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth-Century Cape
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Abstract

Ecofeminist writing has re-evaluated the Western scientific revolution as an essentially male enterprise which classified and exploited nature, as well as facilitating the domination of women and colonised peoples. Mary Louise Pratt's Imperial Eyes extends this analysis by focusing on European scientific travellers in the extra-European world in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. At a general level, over a long period of time, there is force in this argument. But this article argues for a more fluid approach to masculinity and science. In exploring the writings of some visiting scientists at the Cape, especially Anders Sparrman and William Burchell, it highlights their role in developing alternative visions of social interaction and the natural world. The article concludes with an assessment of the position of Mary Barber, one of the first women at the Cape to receive recognition as a natural scientist; while she was subordinated to men in colonial scientific work, her life illustrates that women could be absorbed in these activities and that their views about nature and indigenous people did not necessarily differ from those of the men amongst whom they worked.

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