Qidwai on Goss, 'The Routledge Handbook of Science and Empire'

Andrew Goss, ed.
Sarah Qidwai

Andrew Goss, ed. The Routledge Handbook of Science and Empire. London: Routledge, 2021. Illustrations. 324 pp. $52.95 (e-book), ISBN 978-0-429-27336-0; $270.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-367-22125-6.

Reviewed by Sarah Qidwai (University of Regensburg) Published on H-Sci-Med-Tech (January, 2023) Commissioned by Penelope K. Hardy (University of Wisconsin-La Crosse)

Printable Version: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=57064

The publication of The Routledge Handbook of Science and Empire, edited by Andrew Goss, signals an important milestone in the scholarship on the topic of science and empire. While the relationship of the two has a longer history in the discipline, only in the last few decades have we achieved a critical mass of scholarship to identify and evaluate the state of the historiography. The handbook succeeds in its vision to synthesize the state of the field and present important questions about how to move ahead.

The twenty-seven essays in the volume cover an array of topics from vast geographical areas and even cover a multitude of empires. The central theme of the volume is to show how “numerous scientific concepts are imperial creations” (p. 4). While this is not a new idea, the handbook presents a more thorough exploration of it. In conjunction with the introduction, Pratik Chakrabarti’s chapter, “Situating the Empire in History of Science,” is key to the text. According to the editor, readers can use this chapter to “orient themselves to the challenges and opportunities in the field of science and empire” (p. 7). Chakrabarti asks pointed questions about the Eurocentrism of the field.

The rest of the volume is split into three sections. The first set of chapters is organized thematically around such disciplines as cartography, racial science, meteorology, colonial psychiatry, anthropology, and natural history. The next set focuses on networks of science. This includes networks of knowledge in many contexts: the Indo-Pacific, the Portuguese Empire, the Ottoman lands, Russian soil, and so on. The third set of essays pushes the geographical focus and centers decolonial initiatives. Overall, the chapters summarize important themes for future directions. While chapters can be read on their own, there is a sort of “choose your own adventure” framing as well. Goss encourages readers “to examine chapters from each of these sections, as they feature different approaches and methods, often bringing different perspectives to similar questions” (p. 7).

It is an encouraging sign that discussions of racial science and decolonization are at the forefront in the handbook. The chapters are well researched, and it is hard to criticize any of them because they do exactly what they set out to do. As for the direction of future research, we need to see more engagement with such areas as disability studies, media studies, and the field of science and religion. This next point is not a criticism of the handbook as much as it is of the field, but we need to increase contributions from authors belonging to institutions in the Global South. Perspectives from spaces that were colonized would be essential.

Overall, the handbook is an excellent resource for any scholar interested in the topic. I would recommend it to graduate students for their comprehensive exams, to course instructors to provide readings for an undergraduate class, and to scholars engaging with or looking for a quick introduction to any of these topics.

Citation: Sarah Qidwai. Review of Goss, Andrew, ed., The Routledge Handbook of Science and Empire. H-Sci-Med-Tech, H-Net Reviews. January, 2023. URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=57064

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