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February 10, 2022
12:30pm to 2:00pm
Hybrid Bunche 6275 & Zoom RSVP https://ucla.in/3HyDjMD

The French botanist Michel Adanson spent five years in pre-colonial Senegal in the 1750s, under the auspices of the Compagnie des Indes, collecting and cultivating African plants and mapping the landscape and natural resources of the region.  He traversed this landscape with a variety of African interlocutors and guides, whose knowledge inevitably, if often invisibly, informed his collections, maps, and scientific works. With particular attention to the materiality of indigo,this paper follows the archival traces of Adanson’s engagement with African indigo, including experiments conducted in an ad hoc “laboratory” near the French fort of Saint-Louis. Making scientific knowledge for European audiences (including the royal scientific institutions and the Bureau of the Colonies) depended on various kinds of local African knowledge, as well as on Caribbean plantation experience. This talk will explore questions about the geographies of knowledge and French imperial ambitions, through close attention to the material properties of indigo, the practices associated with its transformation from plant to dye, and the material remnants of Adanson’s engagement with it in Africa. This is both a microhistory of encounters in and around a tiny island off the West African coast and a trans-Atlantic story connecting Senegal to Paris and to French colonies in the Caribbean (Saint Domingue and Guyana).