Decolonizing the teaching of HSTM

The need to decolonize history of science, technology and medicine has become ever more obvious and pressing over the past generation.  When I was studying in the 1990s, there was a strong wave of scholarship critiquing the hegemony (colonial, racial, masculinist) inherent in the making of much science.  Londa Schiebinger and early Donna Haraway come to mind.  Important and corrective though these were at the time, one cannot help but feel that they nonetheless emerged from within the hegemony.  Since then, postcolonial studies has developed as something more vibrant and complex, distinctively different from those earlier critiques.  It has developed notably in the fields of literature and critical theory (we have for example, an active postcolonial centre here at the University of Kent.  Where is it, then, in HSTM?

As editor of the British Journal for the History of Science I made up my mind to devote space to essays on the topic of decolonization from various perspectives (museums, archives, research, public history, teaching) – watch for these in the coming months.

But I realised I had left it rather late when I received, within a single week, not one but two emails from schools (one teacher and one sixth-former) asking whether I could please recommend sources on Islamic science.  The appetite to consider science as a transnational, transcultural phenomenon has arguably outstripped the research that HSTM academics are producing, or, at least, that we are making public.

I put a call out on Twitter for syllabi that approach HSTM from decolonized/global perspectives, and received a lot of well-meaning likes and retweets; but no-one within the circles that the tweet reached had had the confidence to create such a syllabus.  The exception was Dr Debjani Bhattacharyya at Drexel University; someone also pointed me to syllabi and ideas here:

Lowering the bar, I asked for recommended texts.  This is what I got – I have turned them into formal citations and alphabetized them, but have not selected edited or systematized them in any way.

  • Bala, Arun. The dialogue of civilizations in the birth of modern science. Springer, 2006.
  • BJHS Special Issue: Transnational History of Science Volume 45 – Issue 3 – September 2012
  • BJHS Themes issue on India and China (2016) – open access
  • Chakrabarty, Dipesh. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference-New Edition. Princeton University Press, 2009.
  • Chatterjee, Animesh. “‘New wine in new bottles’: class politics and the ‘uneven electrification’of colonial India.” History of Retailing and Consumption1 (2018): 94-108.
  • Dawson, Gowan and Lightman, Bernie, eds., Victorian Science and Literature, Volume 6: Science, race and imperialism. Pickering & Chatto, 2012
  • Geniusz, Wendy Djinn, and Wendy Makoons Geniusz. Our knowledge is not primitive: Decolonizing botanical Anishinaabe teachings. Syracuse University Press, 2009.
  • Harding, Sandra. Sciences from below: Feminisms, postcolonialities, and modernities. Duke University Press, 2008.
  • Mitchell, Timothy, ed. Questions of modernity. U of Minnesota Press, 2000.
  • Mukharji, Projit Bihari. “Vishalyakarani as Eupatorium ayapana: Retro-botanizing, Embedded Traditions, and Multiple Historicities of Plants in Colonial Bengal, 1890–1940.” The Journal of Asian Studies1 (2014): 65-87.
  • Mukharji, Projit Bihari. Doctoring Traditions: Ayurveda, Small Technologies, and Braided Sciences. University of Chicago Press, 2016.
  • Rubenstein, Michael, and Robert John Russell. Public Works. University of Notre Dame Press, 2010.
  • Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. Zed Books, 2013. (esp. Ch. 8);
  • TallBear, Kim. Native American DNA: Tribal belonging and the false promise of genetic science. (University of Minnesota Press, 2013). Other publications at
  • Wickramasinghe, Nira. Metallic modern: everyday machines in colonial Sri Lanka. Berghahn Books, 2014. …. It is very similar to David Arnold’s “Everyday Technology”, but provides a whole new perspective on #histstm in Sri Lanka


  1. In response to Viajar por el mundo.

    On the relative level, it is impossible to separate knowledge from bias. Yet, it is possible to recognise that fact. In its recognition, we can build more reliable understandings of nature and interactions with it.

    A very simple example, reflexivity in the creation of knowledge highlights the presence of bias. Acknowledging its influence in both the creator and consumer of material.

  2. History is created by humans… whith personal bias. It is impossible to separate history and facts from personal or national interests. This is the history of the world. Nowadays this is changing, but I repeat again: it is impossible to separate history and interests. Regards

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