Dr. des.  Tobias Delfs


German Botanists in and around India and their participation in colonialism


My habil­i­ta­tion project deals with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of Ger­man and Ger­man botanists in the impe­r­i­al pen­e­tra­tion of the Indi­an sub­con­ti­nent in the 19th cen­tu­ry through the gen­er­a­tion of knowl­edge and impe­r­i­al envi­ron­men­tal dis­cours­es. The study peri­od cov­ers the time­frame between the Con­gress of Vien­na and the begin­ning of Ger­man colo­nial­ism in the 1870s. This was a time when the Ger­man states were still with­out a Ger­man uni­tary state and with­out own colonies. Nev­er­the­less, Ger­man-speak­ing botanists and nat­u­ral­ists par­tic­i­pat­ed in the empire of knowl­edge at that time, ben­e­fit­ed from its col­lec­tions and inter­na­tion­al exchanges, con­tributed their own col­lec­tions, con­scious­ly or uncon­scious­ly, cre­at­ed, with their exper­tise and their clas­si­fi­ca­tions, the colo­nial ecosys­tem man­age­ment and ulti­mate­ly the exploita­tion of the envi­ron­ment. The actors con­cerned could be local ama­teurs as well as researchers res­i­dent in Ger­many. Uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sors par­tic­i­pat­ed as well as mis­sion­ar­ies, doc­tors, phar­ma­cists or explor­ers.

The project address­es the fol­low­ing ques­tions: 1.) Which actors and which insti­tu­tions were involved and how? In addi­tion to the botanists them­selves, the botan­i­cal gar­dens and the sci­en­tif­ic soci­eties, for exam­ple, played an impor­tant role as inter­faces in the botan­i­cal net­work, espe­cial­ly by pro­mot­ing nation­al and inter­na­tion­al exchanges, award­ing prizes and hon­ors, pro­mot­ing careers, fund­ing research or writ­ing instruc­tions. 2.) Were there polit­i­cal or colo­nial inter­ests in pol­i­tics in Ger­man-speak­ing coun­tries? Did such inter­ests affect botany? These ques­tions also con­cern, for exam­ple, the fund­ing of research and the clients. 3.) How did nat­ur­al research in Ger­man-speak­ing coun­tries and its rela­tion­ship to the colo­nial pow­ers look like? Was there direct con­tact? There are also 4) social-his­tor­i­cal ques­tions about the sup­port­ing groups and stra­ta, espe­cial­ly among the Ger­man botan­i­cal sup­pli­ers in India, their ori­gin, inter­ests and moti­va­tions. Who sup­port­ed them local­ly? And final­ly 5.): Was there a Ger­man net­work with­in botany or was it main­ly inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion? How did the net­work work in prac­tice? In this regard, South Africa, for exam­ple, is to be exam­ined as the cen­tral hub for the exchange between India and Europe.