HPS Seminar

In this seminar, Dr Sabine Clarke (University of York) will speak on: ‘New uses for sugar: scientific research and the industrial development of the British Caribbean after 1940’

HPS Seminar

Date: 12-11-2014
Time: 15:15 - 17:00

Dr Clarke writes:

British plans to encourage the development of industry in the colonies of the Caribbean after 1940 have not merely been underexplored in our existing historical literature, they have been systematically denied. The frequent claim is that the Colonial Office in London acted to purposively frustrate the growth of secondary manufacturing in the British Caribbean, aiming to restrict these colonies to the role of primary producers. This paper departs from this dominant narrative of an anti-industry stance on the part of the British government to elaborate the proposals made by the British government for the economic diversification of the British West Indies in the late colonial period, whilst offering some thoughts on reasons for the invisibility of these plans in the historical scholarship. In contrast to other proposals made at the time, the Colonial Office conception of industrial development gave a key role to scientific research, made possible because of a substantial new Research Fund created as part of the 1940 Colonial Development and Welfare Act. Officials and scientists in London were inspired by recent innovations such as nylon, polythene and penicillin to attempt to transform sugar from a low value foodstuff into a lucrative starting compound for the organic chemical and fermentation industries.  In this vision of industrialisation, state-funded research would enable Britain’s Caribbean Colonies to take advantage of the “brave new synthetic world” that was emerging, and in doing so these colonies would find their economic fortunes revived. (The Manchester Guardian, 25th May 1945, p.4.)

The argument that will be made here is that apart from having practical value in providing data as a basis for development, state-sponsored scientific research resolved a key issue in political economy for the Colonial Office by providing an acceptable mode of state intervention to facilitate economic diversification. Whilst the late colonial period was a high water mark for state-led development in Britain’s colonies, and a time when there was plenty of talk of planning, the vision of British West Indian economic development employed by the Colonial Office can be seen as essentially liberal in character.

This is one of a regular series of seminars run by the Centre for History and Philosophy of Science. Seminars are open to staff and students of the University of Leeds and other universities, and to interested members of the public.

Location: Baines Wing, Room G.36
Cost: Free