CFP (Panel): Cross-cultural encounters, local botanical knowledge, and scientific networks in 19th-century Angola (for 2019 ASA)

Heidi Gengenbach's picture

Dear colleagues,

Jeremy Ball and Sara de Albuquerque are seeking two panelists and a discussant to join a panel they are co-organizing for the 2019 African Studies Association Meeting in Boston/USA (21-23 November 2019). The panel's theme is "Cross-cultural encounters, local botanical knowledge, and scientific networks in 19th-century Angola.” They are open to considering papers on other parts of Lusophone Africa. The panel proposal and individual proposals are copied below. 

If you are interested, please send your abstract to Jeremy and Sara no later than March 12. We would also be grateful if you would share this CFP with your own networks.

Thanks, and best,

Heidi Gengenbach (on behalf of the Lusophone African Studies Organization)


Panel: “Cross-cultural encounters, local botanical knowledge, and scientific networks in nineteenth-century Angola”

This panel examines the intersection of local botanical knowledge, scientific networks, and colonial expansion in nineteenth-century Angola. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, European botanists working for the Portuguese government traveled to Angola to categorize and catalogue plants, but also to learn from local communities about local pharmacopeia and potential export commodities. An example was the work of Austrian botanist Friedrich Welwitsch. As a result of his expedition Iter Angolense (1853-1860), Welwitsch collected about 5,000 plant species, of which 1,000 were new to science.


Part of our charge is to interrogate these encounters. Who benefitted from the sharing of knowledge? Did European botanists and colonial officials appropriate local expertise in medicinal plants? Did members of the multicultural population of the colonial nucleus recognize the efficacy of Angolan pharmacopeia? How had sixteenth and seventeenth-century trade networks and migration impacted local botanical knowledge?


Individual Papers

“Pharmacopoeia in Nineteenth-Century Angolan Colonial Exchanges”

Jeremy Ball


After a brief historic review of health and botanical knowledge in the colonial nucleus of Angola and the neighboring kingdom of Ndongo, this paper will explore the objectives, research methods, and findings of botanist Friedrich Welwitsch, whose expedition to Angola (1853-1860) laid the foundation for the scientific ordering of Angolan pharmacopoeia.

Welwitsch sought to collect and document plants and local knowledge that might be useful to science and to Portugal’s colonizing project in Angola. This paper highlights some of the useful plants and local knowledge discussed in Welwitsch’s writing and explores the extent to which local botanical knowledge reflected wider networks of shared botanical knowledge resulting from trans-Atlantic networks dating back at least two hundred years by the mid-nineteenth century.


“Nature, Exchanges & Encounters – Welwitsch’s Synopsis of Medicinal Drugs”

Sara Albuquerque

Friedrich Welwitsch’s 19th-century publication on ethnobotany: Synopse Explicativa das Amostras de Madeiras e Drogas Medicinaes / Explanatory Synopsis of Samples of Timber and Medicinal Drugs (1862) it is not merely a list of medicinal plants. It compiles the uses and customs related to the Angolan flora and reflects the ‘cross-cultural encounters’ that allowed the acquisition of local knowledge by the European naturalists. And the locals? Did they benefit with these exchanges? One particular manuscript, the ‘Map of Travellers in Africa’ or the ‘Blue Map’ was used by Welwitsch as a working tool and identified several actors located in different regions of the African continent. The botanical exchanges referred here, implied not only local knowledge but also knowledge from other European naturalists, explorers and geographers about the African continent. This paper, besides exploring the Synopsis and the botanical exchanges, also cross-references Welwitsch’s original manuscripts, revealing his network of knowledge, encounters and exchanges that occurred while he was in the Angolan territory (1853-1860).


Categories: CFP