Workshop: "Empires of Knowledge: Expertise and Imperial Power across the Long Twentieth Century"


Friday, September 15, 2017 - 09:00 to Saturday, September 16, 2017 - 17:00


History Dept. Conference Room, BuTo 1197; Sat.--Liu Institute for Global Issues, Research Unit Room (1st floor) BC


This two-day workshop explores how the mobilization of knowledge as an adjunct to modern state power became essential to imperial projects worldwide, and how experts aided in developing knowledge about colonial and putatively post-colonial societies as part of the global cultural, economic and political agendas of metropolitan centers of power from the late nineteenth century to the present.  Questions the workshop will address include: how did traditional colonial powers use knowledge as a tool of empire, particularly in the areas of public health and medicine, agriculture, the geosciences, and the nascent social sciences?  To what extent did imperial powers actively exchange practices and collaborate across borders?  How did emerging global powers (e.g., the US, Russia, and Japan) deploy scientific and social scientific knowledge as part of their efforts to reshape the global order, and how did colonial expertise move across the chronological divide of World War II?  To what extent did the post-World War II rubric of “development” differentiate itself from the old “civilizing mission” of colonialism in its uses of knowledge and mission of “progress,” as opposed to merely being old wine in new bottles?  More broadly, what does this global history of knowledge and power suggest about the relationship between knowledge and the modern state, its ironies, and its possibilities?

The workshop will feature in-depth discussion of papers by a range of international scholars whose research concerns diverse global contexts, along with a Friday night keynote address at Green College by Andrew Zimmerman (George Washington University), author of Alabama in Africa: Booker T. Washington, the German Empire, and the Globalization of the New South (2010), among other works.  Workshop papers will be precirculated in early September.  "Empires of Knowledge" is open to the public, but space is limited.  If you wish to participate and would like access to the papers when they become available, please contact Jessica Wang at

"Empires of Knowledge" will take place thanks to generous sponsorship from the German Historical Institute (Washington, DC), Georgia Institute of Technology, the Liu Institute for Global Issues, Green College, the UBC Faculty of Arts, and the UBC Department of History.