Science and Technology Studies


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UCL STS Seminar series: Dr Gianamar Giovannetti-Singh

17 January 2024, 4:00 pm–5:30 pm

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UCL STS Seminar series : Early modern globalisations of knowledges in Southern Africa

This event is free.

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UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies


Darwin Building
99-105 Gower St


Where does southern Africa fit within global histories of the sciences? Between the late fifteenth and late nineteenth centuries, almost every traveller sailing between Asia and Europe spent time at the Cape of Good Hope. Often described as the “Tavern of the Two Seas,” the early modern Cape was a bustling hub of disparate, interacting cultures of knowledge. Indigenous Khoekhoen populations, European travellers, Dutch settlers, and enslaved East Africans, South Asians, and Southeast Asians brought diverse cosmologies to the southern tip of Africa, producing new, hybridised understandings of natures and humans. In May 1685, an embassy of French Jesuits destined for Siam and China disembarked at the Cape, where they built a temporary astronomical observatory in the Dutch East India Company's Garden. The travelling missionaries documented their interactions with the Khoekhoen, translating southern African conceptions of the heavens and local plants and animals for European readers. The French Jesuits, familiar with Chinese cultures of knowledge from their fellow missionaries, made sense of unfamiliar African knowledges through the lens of Asian sciences. By examining the recrafting of Asian knowledges at the Cape Colony, this paper explores southern Africa’s crucial importance in the early modern globalisation of several natural knowledges. It seeks both to cement southern Africa’s crucially important place in the history of the early modern sciences and explore the ways in which “nature” has been deployed to write out southern African knowledges from global histories of science.

About the Speaker

Dr Gianamar Giovannetti-Singh

Leverhulme Trust-Isaac Newton Trust Early Career Fellow, Lumley Junior Research Fellow in History, Magdalene College at University of Cambridge

More about Dr Gianamar Giovannetti-Singh