A course on the history of knowledge and science in the nineteenth-century European empires

In September-October 2021 I am teaching an undergraduate course on the history of knowledge and science in nineteenth-century European empires. The course is organized at the history unit at the University of Helsinki. Due to the on-going pandemic, it is held online. The purpose of the course is to introduce students to the complex relationship between the production of knowledge, the development of the sciences and the expansion of the European empires in the 19th century. The course tackles the topic thematically as we examine exploring expeditions, processes of mapping and surveying as well as collecting and exhibiting artefacts and specimens in museums and exhibitions. In addition, the topics addressed include analysing the empires as multispecies entities and thinking about the globally significant environmental changes that the European colonial projects brought about. Finally, what would a course on European empires and knowledge be if it did not pay attention to the role of paper and documents in transfering knowledge across the seas? Therefore the final topic discussed is concerned with the bureaucratic and documentary administrative practices that grounded the governance of the overseas territories. Throughout the course I highlight the significance and implications of knowledge exchanges between Europeans and the different Indigenous peoples and offer examples of how to trace marginalized voices from the colonial archives.

This is the first time I am teaching this course so it is something of an experiment. The course work consists of written assignments, class discussions and group work and are designed to develop the students’ abilities to assess their own learning processes. In groups the students will prepare scientific posters and present to the rest of the class in online poster sessions – I am very much looking forward to how this will work and what the students think of this. Come October, we shall see!

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