The Introduction shows that the book is not a conventional biography on Mary Elizabeth Barber. It is a critical examination of the knowledge the British-born settler scientist produced from the 1840s to the 1880s and the insights we gain into knowledge production in a settler colony. This chapter is an overview of the research fields: the social history of knowledge and science and white women in the historiography of science in a (settler) colonial context. Hammel takes what she calls a ‘relational’ approach and cross-contextualises Barber with analogous, parallel and contrary cases. Barber is thus seen within a broader context, and new insights are offered about what enabled or halted her knowledge production. The book is by no means a simple celebration of a hitherto marginalised historical actor; rather, Barber is used to debunk existing biases.
KeywordsMary Elizabeth Barber Relational history Gender Natural History History of Science
Ghosts ‘are a haunting reminder of an ignored past’, Banu Subramaniam, professor and chair of women, gender and sexuality studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, asserts in her exploration of the politics of science. It is our duty as historians to render these ghosts visible by ‘confront[ing] the past, or [else] the dead never go away, history never sleeps, the truth can never be erased, forgotten, or foreclosed’.1 Shaping Natural History and Settler Society: Mary Elizabeth Barber and the Nineteenth-Century Cape addresses a number of interconnected ‘ghosts’, or ‘ignored pasts’, specifically women’s contributions to science, the involvement of the South in global knowledge networks and the role of knowledge production in colonial dispossession.
This is a demythologisation of the male-dominated practices of Victorian science and of ‘colonial knowledge’. It is a reconstruction of the scientific work of British-born and Cape-raised scientist Mary Elizabeth Barber (née Bowker) and her associates. Barber serves as a prism to explore Victorian natural history and to demonstrate the ways it changed throughout the course of her career from the 1840s to the late 1880s. It is an exploration of her compatriots’ and metropolitan colleagues’ negotiations and interrelations of gender, race and class in science. The British historian of science, Jim Endersby, has reconsidered three themes which dominate the understanding of Victorian science: the reception of Darwinism, the spread of colonialism and the birth of science as a profession.2 This study adds gender, settler colonialism and South-North engagement in the making of modern science to the exploration. It illuminates the social, political and economic circumstances which shaped Barber’s career and determines the nature of the impact which Darwin’s books, on the one hand, and the theories and practices forged at the Cape, on the other, had on natural history and society. It correlates these to topics which have generally been studied in isolation from each other: the historical reception of natural history and science in Europe, the British Empire and beyond.
It contributes to the history of science in Southern Africa and the historical reception of Darwinism at the Cape.3 By focusing on an early botanist, ornithologist and entomologist, this book wishes to contribute to a dynamic recent literature on the role of women scholars as collectors, illustrators and authors in the field sciences in Southern Africa.4 Despite developing a strong interest in animal and plant studies and environmental humanities, this study follows an understanding of history as the study of human beings within their temporal and spatial contexts.
When writing about Mary Elizabeth Barber’s career, it is important to bear in mind that the word ‘scientist’ did not exist before the British philosopher and historian of science, William Whewell (1794–1866), coined the term in 1834. Interestingly, he introduced it in a review of a publication by Scottish science writer and polymath, Mary Fairfax Somerville.5 There were very few women scientists like Somerville, and most of them devoted themselves to a single field of expertise. The kind of career Barber was constructing for herself had no precedents. From the 1830s to the 1880s, the lines between what was considered an amateur and who was regarded a professional scientist were still being drawn. Indeed, there were very few individuals who could claim to earn a living from science at the time, and those who did, enjoyed only a low social standing in a scientific community which was still dominated by unpaid gentlemen-scientists such as Charles Darwin.
Mary Elizabeth Bowker was born in 1818 in the village of South Newton, some four miles South of Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, where her parents were farming. Desiring a better future for his eight sons and single daughter than the one he foresaw for them in economically depressed Britain, Barber’s father, Miles Bowker, sought a move to the US, British Canada or Australia. However, prospects for gentlemen-farmers in the newly advertised settlement at the Cape suddenly became attractive. In 1819, the British government offered hundred acres of land to any British man older than eighteen, who was prepared to immigrate to the Cape Colony.6 The Bowker family did so and arrived in May 1820 among the so-called 1820 Settlers—parties of white British colonists which were granted land by the British government and the Cape authorities and settled in the eastern part of the Cape Colony in 1820. Henceforward, young Mary Elizabeth would find herself growing up in the second richest floristic region in Southern Africa, on an extended farm near the Kleinemond River, about thirteen kilometres east of Port Alfred, on the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony. She would spend the rest of her life in the Cape.
As a child, Barber soon began to explore her environment. She is said to have been an autodidactic genius who taught herself to read and write when she was four.7 Her father set up a farm school for all his children and those of his employees. Her parents’ or teachers’ enthusiasm for botany, natural history and natural philosophy may indeed have been contagious?8
She would ultimately paint many more than the one hundred watercolours of plants, butterflies, birds, reptiles and landscapes that remain to this day.9 Sixteen of her scientific articles as well as a volume of poems were published.10 To achieve the publication of her articles, she corresponded with some of the most distinguished British experts in her fields, such as the entomologist Roland Trimen, the botanists William Henry Harvey and Joseph Dalton Hooker, and the ornithologist Edgar Leopold Layard. In doing so, she contributed not only to botany but also to entomology, ornithology, geology, archaeology and palaeontology. While her letters to these experts at the institutions they held an official position at have survived, their letters to her unfortunately have not.
Yet, the remaining sources provide insights into her scientific practices: her many gardens which served as laboratories, where she could observe, paint and experiment with plants and animals, and the collecting and observing of all the natural objects she encountered wherever she went. In her correspondences, Barber emphasised that she did everything in her power to obtain specimens. For example, she reported how, in an effort to procure blossoms from what she thought was the largest aloe species in the world, she began ‘shooting off their stems with a rifle bullet!’, a method which she considered to be ‘rather a novel way of gathering flowers’, and which she felt distinguished herself markedly from women collectors.11 Perhaps, fittingly, this particular aloe specimen did turn out to be the largest yet found in Africa, with a height of up to fifteen metres. The tree aloe was eventually named Aloe barberae (now Aloidendron barberae) in her honour—one among at least ten botanical specimens, genera and butterfly species which were named after or ‘discovered’ by her.12
Barber shaped key issues concerning the status of nineteenth-century natural history. For example, the acknowledged botanist and entomologist was one of the first Cape-based supporters of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and opened the practices of ‘gentlemanly science’ to professionals, amateurs and women. As a shaper of scientific practices and a forger of new theories, Barber’s career offers a telling prism through which to explore trends in the development of science and society in the nineteenth-century Cape.
By exploring the impact of the colonial ‘periphery’ on scientific disciplines, a valuable corrective is provided to the hitherto dominant and Eurocentric approaches, which have viewed modern science as having emerged from the global North before disseminating itself throughout the South.14 The Cape, like other Southern colonial settings, has not yet been recognised as ‘a source of refined knowledge’, but rather, as Jean and John Comaroff—both professors of African and African American Studies and of Anthropology at Harvard University—have argued, as a ‘reservoir of raw fact: of the historical, natural, and ethnographic minutiae from which Euromodernity might fashion its testable theories and transcendent truths, its axioms and certitudes, its premises, postulates, and principles’.15
Barber also offers a prism to assess the role of women in natural history and society in a settler colonial setting. Women were accepted as collectors and illustrators, roles in which they acted as helpmates to men naturalists without invoking any personal scientific ambitions. Ambitious women, such as Barber, who wanted to be recognised as naturalists in their own right, thus faced numerous obstacles and difficulties. The complexities of their marginalisation and other challenges which women academics faced are explored throughout this book.
This study of Barber focuses on Europeans in Europe, in the Cape Colony and other colonies. It is concerned with how Barber constructed herself as a ‘white African’ in her ‘imagined community’ of Anglophone Cape Colonials to legitimise her claim of belonging in her adopted homeland. Barber had internalised the discourses of settler colonialism, which reinforced her conviction in a white ‘civilising’ presence on the African continent, which, in turn, stood for ‘progress’ and ‘modernisation’.16 The emergence of her ideas from both the context of the times and her own life experiences, and how these evolved in conjunction with her endeavours in the emerging fields of botany, entomology, ornithology and archaeology are of particular interest. A special focus lies on her construction of systems of knowledge to give meaning to the changing world around her. The narrative and artistic practices which Barber employed to depict Africans and their environment are also closely analysed.
This book hence lies at the intersection of colonial studies, the social history of science and women’s history, and is an analysis of the intertwined relationship between natural history, gender and settler colonialism. To make the connections between these topics visible, certain concepts are used and adapted, which are introduced in the following sections.
The History of Science in a Colonial Context
Studies on the history of science have focussed on scientific practices that allowed historians to transcend the externalist-internalist divide in science. Historians of science had for a long time distinguished between internal factors and influences that shaped science (e.g. objectivity, experimentation) and external ones (e.g. politics, religion and economy), and had either concentrated on one or the other in their studies.17 In recent decades, historians of science have been aiming to transcend the dichotomy between hagiographic and ‘cynical’ studies. The former celebrate scientific achievements, such as so-called paradigm shifts and inventions, as detached from their social context. The latter reduce the creation of knowledge to a maintenance of social hegemony without analysing the various struggles and social constraints which different scientists face in its production.18 By concentrating on the social aspects of the negotiation of knowledge, this study aims to move beyond these two divides. The complexities involved in the struggle for symbolic capital are explored. Who co-operated with whom, at what time, in what manner and for what reason are key concerns. At the same time, I am interested in the way boundaries between amateur and professional, colonial and metropolitan, man and woman, as well as European and African experts were drawn and how permeable they were.
Following French philosopher and historian of ideas Michel Foucault’s claim that power and knowledge are intrinsically related, knowledge has become a central concern in the study of colonialism. ‘Colonial knowledge’, it has been shown, enabled conquest and was in turn produced by it.19 Saidian- and Foucauldian-inspired critics have examined the ‘imperial gaze’ which ‘reflects the assumption that the white western subject is central’,20 and the colonised are infantilised and trivialised in contrast to the privileged observer’s values. Part and parcel of the imperial gaze was ‘colonial knowledge’ which has been defined as knowledge that enabled the exploitation of resources, trade and the legitimisation of land appropriation.21 As the concept of ‘colonial knowledge’ neglected the internal dynamics and complexities of the non-European societies under scrutiny, a number of scholars began focussing on what they called ‘colonial local knowledge’. Colonial local knowledge not only is a resource to wield power over others, but is also bound up with processes of identity formation and conceptions of self-empowerment and self-affirmation in relation to peers and superiors.22 Towards the turn of the millennium, research primarily concentrated on Europeans’ ‘imperial eyes’, their linguistic imperialism and scientific racism.23
In reaction to this narrative of passive African victimhood, historians in subsequent years have demonstrated how knowledge produced at various locations in colonial Africa actually emerged through constant co-operation between Africans and Europeans who found themselves in unequal but bi-directional work relationships.24 According to this approach, scientific research was a continuous collective process, as has been demonstrated in case studies of individual African experts, research assistants or intermediaries who had a deep impact on fieldwork practice, especially in disciplines such as archaeology, tropical medicine and anthropology.25 Yet, some of these studies have neglected the implications of the colonial context of research, which left the impression that those scholars justified the longevity of hidden colonialism and Eurocentrism.26
Rather than reducing scientific endeavours in the Cape to ‘colonial science’, I investigate the power structures inherent in scientific research. The concept of ‘colonial science’ has been deconstructed and ultimately abandoned as it does not take the constant exchange between colonies and their respective metropoles into consideration and, in our case, pays little attention to the knowledge and practices of Africans.27 The sites of knowledge creation were translocal nodes where different actors from various parts of the world came together with diverse but often mutually interdependent interests.28 This study aims to transcend an approach which emphasises only cross-cultural alliance or scientific racism. Traditionally, scientific racism has been studied in disciplines related to humans such as anthropology, medicine and phrenology. Yet it occurs in any kind of scientific research that underpins racial hierarchy also in disciplines unrelated to humans, such as entomology. Cross-cultural alliance and scientific racism, in Barber’s case, occurred at the same time and what others have regarded as ‘colonial knowledge’ was actually interwoven with the knowledge of Africans.
A problem with which historians of colonial-era science have grappled in the last few years is an over-dependence on concepts which may have helped scholars to frame their interpretations more easily, but as simplified models they often conceal more than they reveal. They may also invoke an inherent power structure which may not have been intended by the scholar who coined the term.29
Rather than contributing to theoretical discussions of concepts or resolving tensions between them theoretically, this study concentrates on a specific historical case to draw out what the actual relations between Africans, 1820 Settlers, Britons, Europeans, Australians and Afrikaners were and how particular inequalities between so-called professional and amateur scientists came into existence. The tensions between different groups at the Cape and in Europe, and the boundaries constructed around the various ‘imagined communities’, are of particular interest throughout the book. Rather than employing concepts, as detailed descriptions as possible are provided of the ambiguous ways in which humans collaborated in search of information, and how circulating knowledge was usually based on a mixture of different sources drawn from various people in diverse cultures with distinct traditions already in circulation. Europeans a Boundaries between what has been called ‘indigenous’ or ‘local knowledge’, ‘settler’ or ‘white knowledge’, ‘vernacular’ and ‘scientific knowledge’ are collapsed to describe ‘knowledge’ as equal no matter where it comes from. I do so as I aim to do more than recognise fluidity, hybridity of knowledge and interaction between different groups of experts.30 Colonialism thus offers me a lens through which the reconfigurations of social hierarchies or the micro-politics of natural history as practised in specific constellations can be examined.
In what follows, it will be shown how science relates to the political and cultural underpinnings of colonialism. The main argument is that natural history, racism and sexism/feminism gender not only closely interacted with each other, but were mutually co-productive. A case in point is how historical actors interpreted natural and sexual selection according to their various perspectives on issues of gender and race. Studies on knowledge creation in colonial contexts have hitherto focused mainly on men, exaggerated hegemonic masculinity and presented gender barriers as stronger than they actually were in nineteenth-century science.31 I examine whether, and in what manner, power structures inherent in a woman’s knowledge production differed from the results of these studies. To do so, I ask: how did Barber contribute to the exploration of nature? Did her contributions to science differ from those of her men colleagues? How did different actors broker, challenge and appropriate knowledge about nature and how were these differences in bartering and in her contributions interlinked with one another?
White Women in the Historiography of Science in a (Settler) Colonial Context
One of the main problems which has been preoccupying and dividing women’s historians, feminist historians and women’s rights activists is whether sex is socially constructed like gender, respectively whether there are differences grounded in biology.32 The two approaches which have developed are equality and difference feminism which have split historians working on women’s pasts into two camps: women’s and feminist history.33
Studies on white women in colonial contexts have either presented women as malevolent perpetrators, personifications of the worst examples of colonial behaviour or as victims of (white) patriarchy, constrained by men and restrictive contemporary gender norms. Reality, however, was much more complex and multifaceted than this.34 Sources by and about white women are often ambiguous in terms of whether and in what way they furthered the colonial project.35 Yet, a number of studies have excavated white women’s impact in colonial situations, but their thoughts on women’s place in society usually only take the form of a brief aside, if mentioned at all.36
While it has often been assumed that European women found freedom in the colonies, this was not the case. In fact, in many colonial settings the cult of domesticity was as strong as in the metropole—if not stronger.37 Colonial women were consciously supressed for the colonial project and gender inequalities essentially determined the structure of colonial racism and imperial authority.38 Contributions to Critical Whiteness Studies have shown that the structural entanglement of the categories of gender, race and class provides interesting insights into white women’s experiences and actions in colonial situations. Many studies have shown how women were constrained by gender ideologies into carrying the responsibility of spreading European culture through family and domesticity.39 White women thus found themselves in an equally precarious position to that experienced by their women contemporaries in Europe.40
The field of Gender and Empire has indeed succeeded in restoring and making many white colonial women visible,41 yet the field ‘has paid little attention to Southern Africa’,42 with the focus exclusively having been on European women travellers, missionaries, nurses, journalists, teachers, wives and companions in the colonies, while studies on women academics have remained marginal at best. The most observable reporting has come from a number of scholars who have focussed on women’s exclusion from science or individual women’s roles as ‘vital components’ in helping their academic husbands with research, facilitating male sociability, and sustaining and reproducing an ‘intellectual elite’.43
However, the lives and careers of women naturalists have been of serious interest to ecofeminists, particularly since the 1990s. Ecofeminists have argued that there were striking connections between women and nature, namely in their mutual repression and exploitation by men. Women, impregnated with the traditionally ‘female’ values of nurturing, collaboration and charity, were thus predestined to take an interest in nature and conservation. Canadian literary and women’s studies scholar Barbara T. Gates, for instance, maintains that women formulated ‘distinctly female traditions in science and nature writing’.44 Gates, along with Ann Shteir, a scholar of women and science, and others unearthed sources that proved that there had been women naturalists in the nineteenth century whom they primarily presented as isolated, apolitical popularisers of science.45 These ecofeminist studies were accordingly based on the assumption of genuine gender difference.46
Many scholars either were not interested in women scientists’ attitudes towards women’s role in science and society in general, or maintained that they had been unconcerned with the Woman Question—the questioning of women’s roles in society, the advocating for women’s suffrage, bodily autonomy, property, legal and medical rights, marriage and sexual freedom in the latter half of the nineteenth century.47 Efforts by women academics and particularly naturalists to use science as a vehicle for the advocacy for gender equality have hitherto attracted little scholarly attention to this point.48 Due to the preoccupation with scientific racism in South African historiography, scientific sexism and scientific feminism have been undervalued. For me, scientific feminism is the use of science for a feminist purpose and the infiltration of feminist ideology into science writing, such as in describing certain kinds of other/more-than-human species in particular ways in order to argue for gender equality among humans.
Going forward, Barber’s agency and marginalisation within the confines of a patriarchal (settler colonial) society is the focal motif.49 The myth that women scientists were marginalised by default shall be debunked, and the ambiguities of and intersections between ideologies of sexism/feminism, nationalism and racism are emphasised. The relationship of factors such as ethnicity, geographic location and marital status to gender, race and class is explored through the comparison of Barber to other women scientists of her era. I investigate what enabled Barber’s theories about gender and race, and what created her metaphors of difference, sameness and equality when comparing genders and races.
This book is neither a classical biography nor a microhistorical study.50 Biographers emphasise the uniqueness of their subject; microhistorians use a life to illustrate a particular pattern or development in the past. Unlike social historians who are concerned with collectives (such as social groups or classes), this study concentrates on individuals. It is an exploration of Barber’s knowledge: her career, her networks as well as the scientific debates and exchange processes she found herself in.51 Southern Africa already has a rich microhistorical and biographical tradition to which historians writing on science in and on the region have generally referred.52 Yet, South African biographical studies generally do not cross-contextualise their subjects with as many discourses and historical actors in other parts of the world as this study does.
My chosen methodology, therefore, is, what I call, a relational approach. A variety of voices from different parts of the world are introduced to assist the recapitulation process of Barber’s methods of knowledge creation.53 Doing so requires a contextualisation of her scientific practices with reference to various actors, some of which she may or may not have been familiar with. Comparing their analogous or different experiences assists in placing Barber within a broader context and offers new insights about the structures which enabled or halted her career.54 Barber’s case takes us both to the metropole and the colony,55 and raises issues of transcolonial similarities and differences among persons of interest in British colonies as well as in Britain itself.
Relational history—such as in connected histories or histoire croisée56—has focused on inextricably enmeshed cultures, commonalities that enable intercultural contact and the crossing of cultural barriers.57 In Barber’s case, contextualisations and comparisons of events and developments are presented by providing examples of the opposite, analogous and parallel cases from other settler colonies.58 The aim then is to show the ways in which different epistemological traditions were entangled and to further offer a nuanced analysis of Victorian science, and particularly natural history.
This includes a contextualisation of Barber’s scientific practices with reference to various actors—not unlike the ‘montage’ genre in biography—in which the past is presented not as preunderstood, but as something which the reader must constantly reconstruct through assessing the historical actor’s self-perceptions along with a polyphony of other voices, interpretations and external perceptions.59 By the same token, this book invites readers to reconstruct Barber’s biography and her thought development through time by reading the chapters—though not necessarily in sequence. Thus, the readers find themselves in a similar position of a researcher or a scientist collecting material and making connections. The chapters are conceptualised and addressed to specific audiences and can be read independently. Yet frequent cross-references to other chapters are interspersed to guide readers and invite them to take additional information in other chapters into consideration. Atmospheric descriptions to provide a sense of how Barber’s experiences may have been are provided. At times, the narrative resembles a conversation. This was a conscious choice in reminiscence of the long oral tradition to pass on historical knowledge from generation to generation. I decided to limit myself on how much context I provide and invite readers to consult additional information such as those recommended in the footnotes.
For those wondering why not more information on men scientists or Barber’s brothers is provided, I want to stress that it was a conscious choice not to devote too many pages to men as they have already been a sufficiently described demographic. In many instances, references to previous literature on them are provided for independent research. By laying the focus on Barber, readers will get a breadth and depth of insight that allows them to know more about her time, space and situation.
In the matter of terminology, it bears clear specification on some terminological particularities that are offered: the term ‘amaXhosa’ is used instead of ‘Xhosa people’, as by an increasing number of scholars.60 ‘Woman’ and ‘man’ are constantly used as adjectives, as for example, in a ‘woman or man collector’ not a ‘female or male collector’, as ‘female’ and ‘male’ are purely biological terms which should not carry with them any connotations of gender.61 When Barber is quoted, her sentences are presented as she wrote them and no punctuation is inserted, which can make them difficult to follow at times. Ever since the end of apartheid, and especially around Grahamstown’s 200th anniversary in 2012, there has been a heated debate about the possible changing of the town’s name. In February 2016, the municipal council voted to propose that the name should be changed to Makhanda, and since 3 October 2018, the town is officially called Makhanda. When I refer to the town prior to that date, I refer to it as Grahamstown and occasionally as Graham’s town such as when quoting from The Graham’s Town Journal.
Archives and Sources
Barber’s own writings, as well as sources relating to her, are located on three different continents. My main archive for Barber-relevant manuscripts was at the History Museum of the Albany Museum Complex in Makhanda (Grahamstown). Further sources on Barber and her family could be found at the National Library South Africa and the Western Cape Archives and Records Service in Cape Town.62
Barber’s correspondences with the directors of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, London, are located at the Kew Library, Art and Archives (KLAA), while her papers which were read and published by the Linnean Society are stored in their archive in London. Outside London, in rural St Albans, the archive of the Royal Entomological Society (RES) holds her correspondence with Roland Trimen. Online archives such as archive.org, the Biodiversity Heritage Library and the Darwin Correspondence Project proved helpful as well.63
Access was also granted to two private collections. The late Gareth Mitford-Barberton, Barber’s great-grandson, kept a family archive in which he stored private letters.64 After meeting his brother’s widow, Angela Mitford-Barberton, in Grahamstown, she organised for these sources to be sent to her daughter Laurel C. Kriegler in Banbury, near Oxford, at whose house I had the opportunity to view them in June 2015. Moreover, I contacted Alan Cohen through the social media platform academia.edu and was able to visit him at his home near London. Cohen, a retired medical doctor with an interest in archaeology, had assisted in cataloguing South African Palaeolithic artefacts at the British Museum, before being asked with researching the background of donors in the 1990s.65 He soon discovered a group of relatives and friends who seemed to revolve around a ‘feisty lady whom no one had heard of before’.66 He accumulated a large collection of records relating to Barber, and subsequently wrote an as-of-yet unpublished biography which he allowed me to read in two separate versions he had prepared for publication in 2011 and 2015–2016, respectively. Cohen had first attempted to publish this biography in the late 1990s. He explains the rejection of his manuscript with reference to the fact that South Africans ‘were just getting over apartheid and no one wished to point out how important the white settlers were to improving the status of the country’. His research in England has been directed at commemorating the intellectual legacy of the British in South Africa and he has successfully published several articles since the end of apartheid.67
I also refer to a broad variety of published sources, such as nineteenth-century scientific journal articles as well as Barber’s book of poetry, which provide insight into social relations between 1820 Settlers, Africans and Afrikaners at the Cape.
Herbaria have also proven to be useful. Not only did I benefit from discussions with many patient botanists that helped me understand past and present botanical and archival practices, I also found passages from letters written by Barber to William Henry Harvey on some of the more than 1000 herbarium sheets at the Trinity College Dublin Herbarium (TCD), which provide insights into the bartering process with plant knowledge between Barber and Xhosa and Mfengu individuals.68 I further consulted Barber’s herbarium specimens at the National Herbarium in Pretoria, the Selmar Schonland Herbarium in former Grahamstown, the Compton Herbarium at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, the Bolus Herbarium at the University of Cape Town, at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in London and at the National Herbarium of Victoria in the Melbourne Botanical Gardens, Australia.
Throughout the book, there are references to Barber’s watercolours, ink sketches and illustrations to demonstrate what insights are to be gained from their careful analysis. Furthermore, photographs and material sources are discussed. These include objects which belonged to the Bowker and Barber families, as well as collections of their specimens which have been exhibited or stored at the History Museum, Albany Museum Complex, in Grahamstown (now Makhanda), as well as at the British Museum in London, and the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.
These sources are critically analysed by asking: who corresponded with whom, when, about which topics and in which situations and settings. Under which conditions were textual sources written, illustrations drawn and in which social, political and economic contexts? What were the writers’ and illustrators’ intentions, and who were their addressees? What were the writer’s and illustrator’s personal interests and how have the sources been received, circulated and archived over time? What tropes, metaphors, similes, symbols and scientific jargon were employed in these sources, and what was silenced? For a particularly detailed critical reflection on a selection of sources and archives see Chap. 9.
This study is divided into three parts. Part I recounts the close relationships which were forged between Europeans and Africans in the pursuit of knowledge and how, together, they shaped science. To determine what was known about Khoesan, Xhosa, Zulu and Mfengu individuals’ plant and bird knowledge, I provide a close reading of a sample of colonial documents. Across generations and centuries, African societies spread knowledge by word of mouth. These oral traditions were reliable and detailed, and recorded and disseminated by white people from their earliest arrival at the Cape.69 Africans began to publish their own writings in their own languages from about the 1880s onwards.70 Hence, there are no African-authored textual sources available from Barber’s most active period of research from the late 1860s to 1880.71Although the voices of Africans cannot be directly traced and recovered in colonial records, ‘the sediments and influences of their speech can be discerned’.72 To discern their influences, I primarily rely on illustrations and photographs from the period, and demonstrate the extent to which information on the practices and knowledge of Africans, as well as the knowledge they co-produced with Europeans, would be lost if colonial sources were read solely for their silencing of African agency.73
Naturalists’ engagement with Africans’ knowledge systems in the Cape, I argue, did not lessen after the mid-nineteenth century unlike many of my colleagues have argued.74 Elizabeth Green Musselman, for instance, claimed that ‘South African naturalists of European ancestry stopped acknowledging the centrality of African natural knowledge for their craft’.75 She listed related factors such as the colony’s intensifying bureaucracy, a more established scientific community, environmental influences such as drought and disease, and the increasingly violent interactions between Africans and Europeans for the developing ambivalence between Europeans and Africans. She argued that the settlers’ desire for cheap labour made Africans’ natural knowledge increasingly marginal.76 Nancy J. Jacobs has argued that ‘Linnean systematics achieved an independence and an arrogation of expertise, diminishing their connection with the vernacular experts who had historically known plants or animals’.77 Unfortunately, the sources about such cross-cultural collaboration are scarce and fragmentary, which explains the fragmentary nature of Part I. Yet what seems to be very little information is promising with regard to the still strong and persisting collaboration between African and European experts in the Cape, an aspect which requires much more scholarly attention.78
I use the term ‘experts’ for what others have called ‘assistants’, ‘collaborators’ or ‘informants’.79 The collaboration and co-production of knowledge was much more egalitarian than European experts in the nineteenth century wanted us to believe. Unlike Nancy Jacobs, I do not distinguish between birders and ornithologists, botanisers and botanists and so on, but see them all as ‘experts’ in their respective fields.80 There is a tendency to speak separately of Western knowledge and indigenous practices when analysing cross-cultural co-creation of knowledge, which is why I chose to refer generically to knowledge, covering theory and practice wherever they arose. In recent literature, ‘intermediaries’ and ‘go-betweens’ are omnipresent.81 Kapil Raj has distinguished four functions of go-betweens: the interpreter-translator, the merchant banker, the comprador and the cultural broker, who in their own way circulated and negotiated specialised knowledge bases between communities.82 While this concept is helpful, there is a danger in reducing actors to their mediating role instead of seeing their actions as a whole, and there is a tendency in current literature towards inflationary use of the term that reduces non-Europeans to go-betweens when focusing on exchanges between ‘Western scientists’ and ‘non-Western communities’.83
Often the collaborating African experts were not adequately and explicitly acknowledged in texts such as scientific publications and travel accounts. Nonetheless, pictures provide insight into their contribution.84 The historian Gesine Krüger has claimed that in colonial photographs there is always ‘an uncontrollable moment’. In the openly racist and colonialist contexts, when colonial photographs came into existence, something ‘infiltrated’ that did not become part of the photographer’s interpretation.85 This infiltration can also be observed in colonial illustrations. Colonial photographs and illustrations are ‘third images’ that were created in third spaces86 in which various cultures meet without the space being that of a single predominating culture. In addition, third images contain the supplementary dimension of an external commentary.87 Africans who were photographed or became part of these illustrations were not completely and utterly at the colonial photographer or illustrator’s mercy. What is seen in these illustrations and photographs are not meanings frozen in time to be unlocked by the analyst, but dynamic objects entangled with histories and various meanings that come to the fore within particular historical and cultural settings.88 Within the New Imperial History, the context in which these sources are discussed changed and thereby what Krüger calls the ‘Handlungsträgerschaft’ (the capacity to act and of acting) shifted from the colonial photographers and illustrators investigated in previous studies to the Africans photographed or illustrated who had hitherto been neglected.89 Due to a limitation of twenty illustrations allowed in publication of this book, the two chapters sometimes describe visual sources which are accessible in online archives such as Google books, archive.org or the Biodiversity Heritage Library. In such cases, please read the endnotes carefully for references.
Chapter 2 first focuses on the everyday life and tacit knowledge that ensured survival for the settlers living at the Cape as well as the European visitors travelling there. It concentrates on how African experts shared the agricultural, nutritional, hygienic and medicinal knowledge that Europeans and settlers heavily relied upon. Chapter 3 is dedicated to African collectors, informants and taxidermists. It is a discussion of their role in the disciplines of ornithology, entomology and archaeology, three of the areas that Mary Elizabeth Barber contributed to.
Part II highlights the competition between metropolitan and colonial, men and women experts, and their negotiations of theories, practices and research ethics. In her critique of modern sociology’s genesis and ensuing structures of knowledge production, the Australian sociologist Raewyn Connell posits a domination of ‘Northern’ knowledge making and a concomitant exclusion of ‘Southern’ insights. She argues that science had for a long time been based on data gathering in the colonies and theorising in the metropoles, a process which ultimately led to the universal application of theories developed in this manner in the North. This model lingers in the post-colonial era.90 The key phase of knowledge production in modern science has been neither the collection of data nor the application of theories, but the stage between the two: namely, that of theory building, the interpretation of information and the theoretical processing of collected data. The ‘professional’ scientists in metropolitan knowledge centres, institutions with large collections at hand, are thereby usually held to be the originators of theories rather than the ‘laypeople’ who provided the data on which these theories are built. But was there always such a rigid distinction between ‘professionals’ and ‘amateurs’? The Beninese philosopher and politician Paul Hountondji has argued that, for science in colonial Africa, there was a ‘lack of these specific theory building procedures and infrastructures’.91 Yet, as Part II shows for the Cape, the relationship between the metropole and the colony was more complex than that, and there were undoubtedly both ‘laypeople’ and ‘professionals’ who theorised about science and innovated its practices.
Chapter 4 delves into her collaboration and competition with European experts within her transimperial network, both at the Cape and abroad. I explore scientists’ creation of knowledge and negotiations of their standing within their scientific communities as well as the impact which gender, class and location had on this process.
In Chap. 5, I demonstrate that Barber’s articles were readily published in England when they served Joseph Dalton Hooker and Charles Darwin’s purpose of strengthening and circulating the theory of evolution by natural selection. In the second part of Chap. 5, I argue that Barber and other women academics at the time were partly motivated to advocate for the theory of sexual selection due to their own personal experiences of women’s subordination in science and society.
Through the lens of specific examples of how Barber practised science and how her scientific work was received by her colleagues, I demonstrate that the experts at the Cape did not only collect specimens and data to deliver material and corroborative evidence for ‘Northern’ theories. As Chap. 6 reveals, they also forged new scientific practices, interpreted the information which they accumulated and built theories of their own. The last part of this chapter provides insights into how Barber’s personal experiences of the Cape-Xhosa Wars impacted on her methods of butterfly classification. A close reading of excerpts from her correspondence provides insights into ideological controversies and discrepancies between the thinking of liberals and ‘their enemies’ in science, as well as political and social thought in Albany and Cape Town.
Part III—the heart of this book—focuses on Barber’s negotiation of her belonging to the Cape. In the 1870s, Barber, like other settler scientists, engaged with the land and its peoples for political and aesthetic reasons, grappling with issues of governance and control, while attempting to construct her surrounding as a united territory to nurture a shared sense of identity and ownership.92 Chapter 7 explores how Barber promoted Cape Colonial nationalism through her work and legitimised the constructed social hierarchy which her brothers and husband had fought to establish and maintain through military means. Her descriptions of animals and plants as well as her theories about archaeological artefacts were a veiled expression of charged political anxieties. While men engaged in public debates which addressed this political context directly through channels such as speeches or columns in local newspapers,93 Barber’s outlets of expression were in her scientific and popular science articles as well as in her poems, travel journal and correspondence. Metaphors and analogies were of particular importance in this regard, as they transformed diffuse political terrors into natural facts. The subsection on archaeology delves into Barber’s and her relatives’ advocacy for an expanding British Empire on the African continent.
The maintenance of white supremacy was the pillar of her advocacy for gender equality. Reading her work against the background of her life story shows how her personal experiences as wife, mother and aunt, as well as her observations of settler society influenced her view on gender relations and birds. Chapter 8, a close reading of her ornithological texts and illustrations, shows how Barber applied her feminist Darwinism to birds in unique ways. She radically challenged the textual and visual representations of contemporary ornithologists who attributed a secondary role to female birds—she debunked Victorian gender roles and stressed the absence of gendered spheres in bird life. Chapters 7 and 8 thus converge on and examine the connections between issues of identity and her research.
Chapter 9 demonstrates that Barber’s legacy and the handling of historic heritage—archival and curatorial practices respectively—are highly political and in turn have a considerable impact on historical research. This chapter focuses on the biographies of some of her archival collections and the backstories of some of the sources she left behind.94 It also bridges the three parts with the brief conclusion summarising the key arguments.95
(Subramaniam 2014, 23).
(Whewell 1834, 65–66).
(Thorpe 1978, 8).
(Thorpe 1978, 37).
The careers of women naturalists have often been explained with reference to their father’s influence. See for example: (Gronim 2007, 34–35); (Shteir 1987, 34); (Slack 1987, 82); (Findlen 1999, 313–349). Yet most women naturalists corresponded with scientists only after the death of their own fathers. See for example: (Le-May Sheffield 2001). So did Barber after her father’s death in 1838.
See (Schonland 1904).
I deliberately use ‘woman collector’ instead of ‘female collector’ as I will explain in the terminology section of this Introduction.
Genera Barberetta und Bowkeria are named after her. Plant species Brachystelma barberiae, Iboza barberae and Diascia barberae were named after her. Iboza barberae is a basionym to Tetradenia barberae. She is said to have ‘discovered’ Stapelia jucunda and Stapelia glabricaulis. At least two butterflies were also named after her by Trimen: Oraidium barberae and Kedestes barberae. For current research on women’s impact on plant names, see for example (Leese 2018).
Makhanda (Grahamstown) is currently (November 2018) widely used such as in Grocott’s Mail.
See for example: (Basalla 1967); for an overview of similar texts and their legacies, see: (Elshakry 2010). The assumption that knowledge was gathered in the colonies for standardisation in the metropoles has long been criticised, see for example: (MacLeod 1980). The Australian historian Iain McCalman has shown how the theory of evolution by natural selection was a collective effort and forged in Australasia: (McCalman 2010).
(Comaroff and Comaroff 2012, 1).
Barber presented herself as a ‘wild ignorant Africander’. TCD: Pelargonium genus: 985/131–4, including M.E. Barber to W.H. Harvey, no date. In her travel journals, Barber frequently wrote about an imagined community of settlers; for example: ‘We, of South Africa’, whose ‘African feelings’ were hurt by the sight of European plants. See for example: Mary E. Barber, Wanderings in South Africa by Sea and Land, Vol. 1, CL: MS 10560 (a), 10, 31; Vol. 2, MS 10560 (b), 53.
(Endersby 2010, 313).
(Schär 2015, 32–33).
(Waugh 2006, 514).
(Ballantyne 2008, 177–198).
Roque writes of ‘mutual parasitism’ or ‘parasitic symbiosis’ (Roque 2010, 18, see also 17–39).
For a critical investigation of several such concepts, see (Hammel 2017).
See for example (Hammel 2015a).
Women’s history has had remarkably little practical influence on activists and feminist scholars. It has largely remained in the ivory tower and did not make as deep an impact on general historiography as initially hoped for. The field has further split into various sub-fields. See for example: (Bennett 1989); (Scott 1999).
See for example (Law 2010).
(McClintock 1995, 15, 34).
However, Carolyn Martin Shaw has argued differently, see: (Shaw 2008).
For an overview see: (Ghosh 2004).
(Law 2016, 167).
They were probably inspired by literary scholars who had argued that women travellers had written for women primarily interested in domestic life. It has therefore been argued that women produced more private and fragmentary autobiographies, while men wrote formal, objective memoirs which contextualised the importance of their life or journey. This line of argument constitutes women as emotional and men as rational. See for example: (Stevenson 1982, 9–10). The content of women’s journals was also deemed gendered: ‘the masculine heroic discourse of discovery’ was ‘not readily available to women’, who were thus compelled ‘to collect and possess themselves’ (Pratt 1992, 159, 160, 213). Others perceived women as morally superior to men, as they were critical of British rule and got personally involved with the autochthonous population. See for example (Mills 1991, 3, 21, 22, 44). Some have argued that while women and men are different, women travel writers have been quite similar to men in their writing styles as they tended to write from the stance of a white man or adopted ‘a temporary male status’ to avoid criticism for undertaking what was a supposedly male endeavour. In so doing, women could behave like men and neglect ‘female culture and family life’ (Murphy 2006, 142); (Birkett 1989, 136, 137, 192, 115, 123).
See for example: (Le-May Sheffield 2001). Marianne North, for instance, is depicted as a woman naturalist who did not straightforwardly reject patriarchal Victorian ideologies. See for example: (Agnew 2011); (Murphy 2006). On the Woman Question, see for example: (Helsinger et al. 1983; Crosby 1991; Evans 1994).
For an exception, see (Gianquitto 2013).
By the concept of patriarchy, I understand what the American poet, essayist and radical feminist Adrienne Rich defined as ‘a familial-social, ideological, political system in which men – by force, direct pressure, or through ritual, tradition, law, and language, customs, etiquette, education, and the division of labor, determine what part women shall or shall not play, and in which the female is everywhere subsumed under the male’ (Rich 1977, 57).
See for example (Ginzburg 2002).
I am not trained in any of the disciplines to which Barber contributed; therefore, my analysis of her career differs from that of scientists who have previously written about Barber. See for example: (Dold 2001).
See for example (Bank and Jacobs 2015, 11, 17).
For the outlines of a similar approach, see for example: (Zemon Davis 2011).
Elsewhere, I have called this approach ‘relationale Quellenvernetzungslesart’, the relational cross-linking of sources. Paper presented at «Österreich in Übersee – GÜSG Tagung Wien 2012», Gesellschaft für Überseegeschichte e.V., 10 June 2012. Similarly, Sivasundaram has introduced ‘cross-contextualisation’, the reading of scarce and unorthodox sources alongside more common ones (Sivasundaram 2010).
See (Cooper and Stoler 1997).
(Raj 2016): 39.
This approach has proven fruitful, as in (Coombes 2006).
For a discussion of gender terminology, see for example: (Cralley and Ruscher 2005).
I also found archival sources on other women botanists from the era at the Amazyana Archive, at the Hulett Sugar Company, in Tongaat, the KwaZulu-Natal Museum in Pietermaritzburg, the Brenthurst Library in Johannesburg and the UCT (University of Cape Town) Manuscripts and Collections in Cape Town.
The Darwin Correspondence Project at the University of Cambridge provides edited letters from and to Darwin: https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk; the Biodiversity Heritage Library is a consortium of natural history and botanical libraries that provide published materials, such as scientific journal articles and monographs: http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org; archive.org is a San Francisco-based Internet library that provides resources online.
On the basis of these letters, he published: (Mitford-Barberton 2006).
Cohen to Hammel, 10 April 2015.
I refer to folder numbers and botanical names as the letter passages are mostly undated.
For a brief overview, see (Glen and Germishuizen 2010, 5).
See for example (Wells 2012, 21, 63).
Tilley has rightly criticised how African understandings of nature only figure in Europeans’ confirmation of their existence and contribution, as there is little textual evidence of non-literate Africans’ scientific awareness and knowledge creation. Her call for ‘epistemic pluralism’, such that texts and the exact sciences should no longer be privileged in the historiography of science, has had a deep impact on the study of knowledge in colonial contexts (Tilley 2011, 328–332). A number of innovative studies have followed her call, including: (Braun 2015). This study takes visual and material sources seriously and goes beyond the exact sciences. Since the mid-1990s, a number of scholars have conducted oral history interviews with Xhosa communities and altered historiographical insights into certain Xhosa chiefs’ lives and their importance in South African history. See for example (Stapleton 1993; Wells 2012). Given that the African experts under consideration were of much lower rank and status in local society, their lives did not become part of Xhosa oral historiography and there was no chance of gaining comparable insights from a similar approach, which is why this part is limited to the traces they left in the colonial archive, which are cautiously and source-critically approached. Many of the passages used in Chaps. 2 and 3 are part of a heroic master narrative in which settlers and other Europeans placed themselves and in which they consciously wrote out African experts by rendering them anonymous, presenting them as nameless shadowy figures or silencing them altogether. Much has been written about these processes, yet the very same passages used to show how Western scientists’ engagement with Africans’ knowledge systems diminished after the mid-nineteenth century provide insight into how African experts in the nineteenth century contributed considerably to the emergence of modern science. In Part I, I speak of African experts in the South African context. I deliberately chose not to compare and contrast the cases with similar ones in other (settler) colonial settings in Africa and beyond as frequent comparisons would have made the two chapters unreadable. Despite there being more and more research, such as (Feierman 1992) for medicine in different colonial contexts in Africa, I also chose not to include secondary sources such as the growing body of research on twentieth-century anthropology in South Africa, which may have helped me understand the dynamics of such cross-cultural collaboration, but to my mind would have been anachronistic. See for example (Schumaker 2001; Tilley 2011; Bank and Bank 2013; Bank 2016).
(Hamilton 1998, 27).
See (Raj 2007, 60–65).
See for example (Beinart 1998, 784).
(Green Musselman 2003, 369).
(Green Musselman 2003, 384, 386).
(Jacobs 2016, 95).
I thank the African History Lab of the University of Basel organised by Cassandra Mark-Thiesen for allowing me to present this part (25 September 2018). I much benefited from the discussion and suggestions.
Ibid. The anthropologist and ethno-ornithologist Ralph Bulmer, for instance, was at the forefront of this change in appreciation during the 1960s from ‘informant’ to ‘expert’. See his collaboration with Ian Saem Majnep, who shared co-authorship with Bulmer in Birds of My Kalam Country (1977).
For an overview, see for example: (Raj 2016).
(Raj 2016, 41–42).
See for example (Shepherd 2003, 336, 339, 340, 343, 344, 345); (N. Jacobs 2006, 571, 574, 590); (Harries 2007, 136, 248); (Bank and Bank 2013, 131, 132); (Jacobs 2015, 280, 294; 2016, 10, 11, 109, 135, 149, 162, 169, 178, 184, 191, 193, 198, 204, 219, 238); (Bank 2016, see for example: title page, 141, 162, 200). Illustrations often constructed inaccurate stereotypes, depicting men on the Southern African frontier in loincloths even though they were wearing trousers, and including clichéd characteristics such as thick lips, or excluding facial features or any hints of social context altogether. See for example Ornithological informant Gert lecturing on the mâ-hem (Holub 1881, 1:147), also reproduced in: (Jacobs 2016, 10); Athletic ‘Batlapin boys’ hunting birds with the kiri, in: (Holub 1881, 1:opposite 109); Figure 2.2. Behind this ‘colonial foil’ are layers that show much more than the European language of representation—what the literary historian Stephen Greenblatt maintained is the only aspect we can be certain of when investigating colonial texts, illustrations and photographs (Greenblatt 1991, 7).
(Krüger 2013, 4).
Third Space’ after Homi Bhabha, see: (Rutherford 1998).
Frank Heidemann, Transkulturelle Bilder. Von der Kolonialfotografie zu ‘dritten Bildern’, http://www.journal-ethnologie.de/Deutsch/Schwerpunktthemen/Schwerpunktthemen_2005/Visuelle_Anthropologie/Transkulturelle_Bilder/index.phtml (2005), quoted in: (Krüger 2013, 5), my translation and paraphrasing.
(Waters 2000, 5).
(Krüger 2013, 10).
(Hountondji 1995, 2).
(Dubow 2004, 118).
See for example (Bowker 1964); see for example: William Monkhouse Bowker in Graham’s Town Journal, 23 September 1872; 4 October 1872; 3 November 1873; 23 May 1873.
See (Hamilton 2011).
While revising the manuscript, I shortened it considerably and particularly deleted passages of similar content to published articles. I therefore refer you to: (Hammel 2015a, b, 2016a, b, 2018; Ramutsindela et al. 2016) and http://zeitnah.ch/7181/intransparente-privatisierung-wissens/ (23 November 2013), date accessed 14 December 2018.
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