Universiteit Leiden

nl en

Research project

Who did all the work? The hidden labour of colonial science

Investigating the contribution of interpreters, informants, hunters and guides in the making of colonial scientific knowledge.

2023 - 2028
Fenneke Sysling
NWO Open Competition XS Grant NWO Open Competition XS Grant
Batak rajah Isaak (left), Batak priest Ama Batuholing Lumbangaol (middle), and German researcher Johannes Winkler (right), Sumatra 1914. Image: Krikellis (ed.), Religion und Heilkunst der Toba-Batak auf Sumatra.

Scientists who travelled to the Dutch East Indies to study its cultures or the natural world usually portrayed themselves as lone, heroic explorers. However, scientific work in the colonies was not possible without support from local experts, guides, interpreters, or specimen preparators, whose contributions were downplayed consistently in the scientists’ publications. This project makes visible the hidden labour of these contributors to colonial scientific knowledge in the Dutch East Indies, 1890–1962. This will make it possible to rewrite the history of colonial science as a collective epistemic project involving many non-western actors.

The project team will create a (Nodegoat) database including names and information on all the local contributors in colonial science we can find in popular scientific works, archives and photography from the Dutch East Indies. With the information in this database, we can analyse what this disparate group of contributors has in common: What were their tasks? Which skills were valued? We can also single out individuals or groups that merit further study, for example because they can be found across publications, such as the Dayak clans from Borneo who were recruited for several Dutch expeditions because of their ‘jungle and river expertise’. Finally, we want to start answering questions about the extent to which these non-western actors co-produced scientific knowledge.

Topographer Mohammed Saleh at the flooded Motor Bivaouc, New Guinea 1926. Image: Wereldmuseum TM-60050847

Read the Who Did All The Work Blog on Medium: https://medium.com/@whodidallthework/list/reading-list


This website uses cookies.  More information.