Environment as object and actor of conquest and conservationism in (post)imperial Africa

January 2021 to December 2023
colonial conquest
colonial sciences
Leopold II’s expansionism
environmental agency
Research fields
History and Archaeology

Africa has been a scientific object in its own right for European bureaucracies since the eighteenth century. Over the course of the nineteenth century, explorers, mapmakers, natural history collectors and learned societies became entangled with imperial power structures and networks. Their involvement in imperial exchanges and transfers of both knowledge and expertise related to Africa strengthened policies for economic expansion and territorial conquest, which intensified in the last quarter of the nineteenth century (the Scramble for Africa) and gained a Belgian component due to Leopold II’s expansionist enterprise in the Congo. The connection between ‘knowledge’ of the field and the development of a system of dominating and exploiting the African people and ecosystems became firmly established. It is essential to determine how the ‘colonial sciences’ became ‘servants’ of colonial rule, and therefore became a decisive factor in the changing relationships between humans and the environment.