14 Jun 2022 15:00 - 18:00 Hybrid: Zoom and The Bradfield Room, Darwin College, Silver Street, Cambridge, CB3 9EU


‘Ethno-Science’ Reading Group. Session Seven: Guest Speakers Graham Dutfield and Helen Tilley

‘Ethno-Science’ is a reading group dedicated to programmatic and critical texts on the changing relationship between scientific knowledge and what is variously called local, ‘indigenous’ or ‘native’ knowledges. Our starting point is the eighteenth-century travel instructions that asked naturalists to routinely record indigenous names and knowledge. We explore economic botany, zoology, ethnography, and other strands of nineteenth-century natural history relying on systematic surveys of national and colonial territories, and the eventual consolidation of ethno-disciplines in the twentieth century. The aim is to understand the relationship between reifications and reinterpretations of ‘savage’, ‘indigenous’, ‘native’ or ‘primitive’ knowledge and corresponding field practices of interrogation and interaction with local informants. We are interested in the putative shifts towards increasingly global awareness and calls for the incorporation of ‘traditional’ knowledge in political and scientific discourses.

In place of the usual reading group, this week we are joined by guest speakers. The session will be hosted in person, in Darwin College, and online via Zoom.

15:00-16:00: Graham Dutfield
Professor of International Governance at the School of Law, University of Leeds.
He has worked for several decades in governance of technology, knowledge and property in the context of such major global challenges as public health, food security, biodiversity conservation, ecosystems management, and climate change.

Helen Tilley
Associate Professor of History and Law at Northwestern University.
Her research examines medical, environmental, and human sciences in colonial and post-colonial Africa, including their synergies with legal, economic, and global history. She is the author of Africa as a Living Laboratory: Empire, Development, and the Problem of Scientific Knowledge, 1870–1950, published by the University of Chicago Press.

Discussion and audience questions


Attendance is free, but spaces may be limited, so to register to attend in person please email Raphael Uchôa. To attend via Zoom, please email Samantha Peel. Please do specify which type of attendance you prefer in your email.  

gloknos is initially funded for 5 years by the European Research Council through a Consolidator Grant awarded to Dr Inanna Hamati-Ataya for her project ARTEFACT (2017-2022). ARTEFACT is funded by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (ERC grant agreement no. 724451). For information about gloknos or ARTEFACT please contact the administrator in the first instance.


Wednesday 20 October 2021

Session One: Nineteenth Century Travel Instructions

  • British Association for the Advancement of Science. Notes and Queries on Anthropology, for the Use of Travellers and Residents in Uncivilized Lands. London, E. Stanford, 1874.
  • Urry, James. “‘Notes and Queries on Anthropology’ and the Development of Field Methods in British Anthropology, 1870-1920.” Proceedings of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, (1972): 45–57.
Wednesday 24 November 2021

Session Two: Economic Botany in the Nineteenth Century

  • Nau, Eugène. ‘Flore indienne d’Haïti’, in Émile Nau. Histoire des Caciques d’Haïti, (Paris: Gustave Guérin et cie, Éditeurs, 1894).
  • Reyes, Michael. ‘Caribbean ethnobotany before Roumain: Eugène Nau’s nineteenth-century contribution to an understanding of the “indian flora of haiti”’, Caribbean Quarterly 63(4) (2017), 467-483.
Wednesday 19 January 2022

Session Three: Translations between Field and Lab

  • Bravo, Michael T. The Accuracy of Ethnoscience: A Study of Inuit Cartography and Cross-Cultural Commensurability. Department of Social Anthropology, University of Manchester, 1996.
  • Shmuely, Shira. ‘Curare: The Poisoned Arrow That Entered the Laboratory and Sparked a Moral Debate’. Social History of Medicine 33, no. 3 (2020): 881–97.
Wednesday 16 February 2022

Session Four: ‘Ethno-Science’ Guest Speaker

Esther Jean Langdon

Wednesday 16 March 2022

Session Five: Ethno-Science and Historiography

  • Tilley, Helen. ‘Global Histories, Vernacular Science, and African Genealogies; or, Is the History of Science Ready for the World?’ Isis 101, no. 1 (1 March 2010): 110–19.
  • Mukharji, Projit Bihari. ‘Vishalyakarani as Eupatorium Ayapana: Retro-Botanizing, Embedded Traditions, and Multiple Historicities of Plants in Colonial Bengal, 1890–1940’. The Journal of Asian Studies 73, no. 1 (2014): 65–87.
Wednesday 18 May 2022

Session Six: Recent Reflections on Bioprospecting

  • Das, Kaushiki. ‘The Global Quest for Green Gold: Implications of Bioprospecting and Patenting for Indigenous Bioresources and Knowledge’. Society and Culture in South Asia 6, no. 1 (2020): 74–97.
  • Pollock, Anne. ‘Places of Pharmaceutical Knowledge-Making: Global Health, Postcolonial Science, and Hope in South African Drug Discovery’. Social Studies of Science 44, no. 6 (2014): 848–73.
Tuesday 14 June 2022

Session Seven: ‘Ethno-Science’ Guest Speakers

Graham Dutfield and Helen Tilley


Graham Dutfield: The Beyond Intellectual Property Moment in Historical Context

In 1996, a book called ‘Beyond Intellectual Property’ was published by International Development Research Centre. A law book written by two people entirely unschooled in law, this was hardly a world-changing event. The book was very much of its time, being published soon after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which itself came five centuries to the year after a rather more noteworthy event. That said, talking about the book, not so much what it contains, but about why it was written at all and during the decade it was, can reveal much about a specific moment in time that the book, at least in part, captures. Ten years earlier, this book would never have been written; ten years later it is unlikely it would have been needed. That this book is so much of its time testifies perhaps to a certain uniqueness of the era in which it was produced. As we will see, intellectually, legally, and politically shifts were taking place and interacting with each other in some quite remarkable ways. Certain individuals played a big part in this, and nobody did more than the book’s main author Darrell Posey. For Darrell, the book was a logical and hugely compelling extension both of his scientific work on the ethno-ecological practices of Indigenous peoples in the Amazon, and of his environmental activism. In the end, there was no revolution as such; a five hundred-year legacy is not so easy to counteract. But change did take place and it’s possible the era the book represents did lead to improvements in the status of Indigenous peoples.

Helen Tilley: Traditional Medicine Goes Global Pan-African Precedents, Cultural Decolonisation, and Cold War Rights/Properties

The concept of traditional medicine, for all its multifaceted roots, achieved global prominence only during the Cold War era in the wake of massive decolonisation. While developments within Asia contributed to this shift, it was often leaders and diplomats from newly independent African countries who first put different aspects of traditional medicine forward for debate within United Nations agencies. The Organisation of African Unity (OAU), along with several other pan-African initiatives, paved the way for this work, tying the continent’s cultural heritage to its medical heritage and pushing for its ‘cultural property’ to be protected as intellectual property. These goals were both precedent setting and inherently fraught: they gave states more tacit power to act as gatekeepers for those labeled ‘traditional healers’ (who often referred to themselves by different terms entirely and had ambivalent relationships to state authorities). Diplomats also promoted an ethos that endogenous experts’ ‘know-how’ was a public good and the preserve of governments, rather than private capital. This article reconstructs a central strand in the story of how traditional medicine went global, paying special attention to pan-African networks’ radical foreign policy agendas. These ultimately ensured that global institutions, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), opened their doors to polyglot therapeutics (or different conceptual schemas to define health and illness) and promoted the idea that heterodox healers were integral to people’s rights to health. Though pan-African initiatives were unable to overturn deeply entrenched power imbalances or enact their full agenda, they did have lasting legal, policy, and epistemic effects that continue to reverberate around the world to this day.

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