HIS 400 S02 White Hunters, Black Poachers: Africa and the Science of Conservation
Fall 2021 Junior Seminar
Instructor: Jacob Dlamini
When is hunting poaching and what does the law have to do with that distinction? For that matter, what does race have to do with who is a hunter and who is a poacher? These are just some of the questions that students in this class will examine as they study the role of Africa—as both place and idea—in the advent of the science of conservation from the 19th century to the 20th century. The course looks at the complex ways in which the origins of conservation, ostensibly a universal good, were shaped by ideas about race and racialized understandings of the relationship between culture and nature, as well by asymmetrical power relations between imperial European powers and different parts of the world. Drawing on a range of primary and secondary sources—including the autobiographies of American and European hunters in Africa, colonial government reports regarding conservation, and writings by Africans about indigenous knowledge systems—the course will not only track the historical development of conservation and changes in conservationist thinking over time, it will also ask the potentially taboo question of whether Africa, the world’s last remaining home for sizable populations of megafauna such as elephants and rhino, needs conservation.
The objectives of the course are to introduce students to the study of African History and Environmental History; to teach them how to use primary sources, and to help them develop the skills needed for work with archives, and for the use of primary sources to build historical arguments. The seminar, which will meet once a week for three-hours, is open to all. The bulk of the readings will be drawn from Africa, but students with interests in other regions (Asia, Europe, South America, North America) will be encouraged to use the seminar and the intellectual and practical resources made available in the seminar to develop topics connected to their regions of interest.