Theme 1: Colonialism

A comparison of responses to dirt among different social and economic groups in the colonial period.

This strand will examine how traders, missionaries and colonial administrators in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries made use of the category of dirt to interpret the African communities they encountered. This strand will also include attention to the rich array of local African words connoting dirt that pre-existed colonialism by many decades in Africa, and the role played by scatological language in African protests against chiefs and figures of political authority in Africa, as well as the ways dirt was employed in other African discourses. This strand will ask: what differentiated colonial traders, missionaries and administrators from one another in their representations of African bodies, and in their efforts to understand local tastes and patterns of consumption? How were African bodies represented in relation to local commodities? In what ways were/are perceptions of dirt connected with African bodily relationships to the global economy? To what extent did African concepts of dirt permeate colonial policy, trade encounters and missionary endeavours?