STS Colloquium: March 28, 2019 Mary Terrall

March 28, 2019 – 5pm in Buchanan Tower 1197

Mary Terrall

University of California, Los Angeles

“Indigo Trials and Tribulations: Michel Adanson’s Encounter with Africa”
Co-Sponsored by the History Department, Early Modern Studies Group, and the Department of French, Italian, and Spanish

The French botanist Michel Adanson spent five years in pre-colonial Senegal in the 1750s, nominally under the auspices of the Compagnie des Indes, collecting and cultivating African plants and mapping the landscape and natural resources of the region. He entered into this landscape through the mediation of a variety of African interlocutors and guides, whose knowledge inevitably, if often invisibly, informed his collections and maps. This paper follows the archival and material traces of Adanson’s engagement with African indigo, including experiments conducted in an ad hoc “laboratory” at near the French fort of Saint-Louis. It explores questions about the geographies of knowledge in the context of French ambitions to exploit African markets and natural resources and to expand their colonial presence in and around Cayenne, on the coast of South America. This is both a microhistory of conditions and encounters in and around a tiny island in Africa and a more global story connecting Adanson in Senegal back to Paris, and to the commercial and political landscape of global trade in African, American and Asian commodities (including slaves).

Mary Terrall is Professor of History at UCLA. She is the author of Catching Nature in the Act: Réaumur and the Practice of Natural History in the Eighteenth Century(University of Chicago Press, 2014) and The Man Who Flattened the Earth: Maupertuis and the Sciences in the Enlightenment (University of Chicago Press, 2002), for which she was awarded the Pfizer Prize from the History of Science Society and the Gottschalk Prize from the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. In 2012, she co-edited Vital Matters: Eighteenth-Century Views of Conception, Life and Death (University of Toronto Press, 2012).