King's College London
Online Exhibitions
Representing the unfamiliar: Photography in the British Empire 1866-1938

Domestic and agricultural development

Photograph of a newly built grain store, with village residents presentPhotograph of a newly built grain storeAnother important aspect to British imperialism was the attempt to ‘improve’ the agricultural and domestic approaches of colonised people.

This trend reached its apotheosis with the disastrous 1954 groundnut scheme in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) where over £50 million of British investment in groundnut plantations produced fewer nuts than had been bought in seed. However British visions of overhauling African domestic and farming techniques were common earlier in the 20th century.

The African continent was an attractive location for the advancement of scientific careers, especially in areas such as anthropology or agricultural research.

Scientists aimed to comprehend and dominate the diverse African environments and in turn translated this information to supplement colonial power over the colonised indigenous populations. It was in these ways that scientific thought and endeavour acted as an imperialising influence.

Lord Hailey, head of the influential African Research Survey from 1929 to 1939, described Africa as a ‘living laboratory,’ for scientific experiments, a quotation later used by historian Helen Tilley to highlight the imperialising approach of scientific endeavour.

These influences were not purely imperialising: the involvement of indigenous Africans in the scientific process unintentionally helped to provide the intellectual framework to question colonial and European domination.

Nonetheless, domestic and farming techniques were focal points for developmental attitudes and ideology, evidenced here by photographs and the accompanying captions. These photographs are taken from a 1937 report on Kenyan development and indigenous medical training, portraying grain stores before and after colonial advice.

Kenyan farmers were instructed to build grain stores which were resilient to attack from rats and weevils, amongst other vermin, by using elevation and brick. Whilst the document suggests ‘there is no reason to suppose that African capacity is unduly lower,’ training from ‘older and more civilised countries,’ was deemed necessary to raise Kenyans to the European level.

Photograph of a grain store, deemed unfit for purpose with village residents presentPhotograph of a grain store, deemed unfit for purposeIndeed, the caption shown to the left, ‘a grain store typical of yesterday,’ exhibits the belief colonial administrators had, not only in the march of colonial progress, but that it was European suggestions which guaranteed it.

The suggestions made by British administrators would have most likely aided the prevention of rats and other vermin reaching the grains.

However, the overt themes of intellectual and moral superiority harnessed by the British were central to ideas of development, making a major contribution to the rhetoric of progress and how the Europeans perceived themselves as members of a superior civilisation.

Link to King's College London catalogue record:

AR Paterson. Note on considerations arising out of the question "What trained Africans the Medical Department of Kenya is like to require?". 1937

ARCHIOS™ | Total time:0.0319 s | Source:cache | Platform: NX