Empires of Opportunity: German naturalists in British India and the frictions of transnational science

von Brescius, Moritz Hans (2020). Empires of Opportunity: German naturalists in British India and the frictions of transnational science. Modern Asian Studies, 55(6), pp. 1926-1971. Cambridge University Press 10.1017/S0026749X19000428

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This article examines the little-known but exceptionally well-documented German Schlagintweit brothers’expedition to India and Central Asia in 1854-1858, under the auspices of the British East India Company and theking of Prussia. The brothers’ careers present an instructive study of the opportunities and conflicts inherentwithin transnational science and the imperial labour market in colonial India over the nineteenth century. Untilnow, historians have largely emphasised the ways in which European East India Companies provided scientificpractitioners with professional mobility from the seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century. In these accounts,German scientific practitioners are represented as especially mobile, moving more or less freely within foreignempires, because there existed at the time no ‘German’ empire that might compete for allegiances and makethem appear suspect. My article, in contrast, offers a revisionist account of this globalising picture in two senses.First, a close look at the local everyday practices of the Schlagintweit brothers’ expedition highlights theconsiderable tensions and frictions which accompanied imperial recruitment to South Asia – even for Germanscientific practitioners. What emerges instead is a rich picture of the contradictory interpretations amongcontemporaries of supposedly cooperative projects, and the instrumentalisation of scientific activities forpolitical ends in the Indian subcontinent, for both established and aspiring colonial powers. Second, the ways inwhich the Schlagintweits’ scientific expedition was represented and remembered in the subsequent decadesshows how the politics around transnational science projects only intensified with German unification.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of History > Modern and Contemporary History

UniBE Contributor:

von Brescius, Moritz Hans


900 History > 910 Geography & travel
900 History > 940 History of Europe
900 History > 950 History of Asia




Cambridge University Press




Moritz Hans von Brescius

Date Deposited:

28 May 2020 12:45

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:38

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