Forgotten paths of empire

Presented by ANU College of Health & Medicine

In 1926, Richard Pearson Strong, head of Harvard’s Department of Tropical Medicine, led an eight-member scientific team on a four-month long biological and medical survey of the interior region of Liberia. The expedition was thoroughly entangled in the material relationships—transportation infrastructure, labor regimes, and commodity production—being erected by the Firestone Plantations Company in Liberia to secure a viable rubber supply for the United States. While Firestone’s continued presence in Liberia is one lasting legacy of the expedition, so too is the motion picture record the expedition left behind. This talk embarks on a journey that follows the traces of an expedition and a film never made to make visible the forgotten paths of empire that led to widespread economic, environmental, and cultural change in the West African republic of Liberia. In doing so, I shall highlight the circulation of knowledge, commodities, and microbes that brought ecological and evolutionary understandings of disease into being. And I will also suggest how we might take the imperial debris of a scientific expedition produced in the service of capital and make something new of its ruins.

About the speaker
Gregg Mitman is the Vilas Research and William Coleman Professor of History of Science, Medical History, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA. His teaching and research interests span the history of science, medicine, and the environment in the United States and the world, and reflect a commitment to environmental and social justice. His scholarship seeks to understand the ways in which political economy, cultural values and beliefs, and scientific knowledge intersect in shaping the interactions among people and environments over time.

Short title for tweet: Forgotten Paths of Empire