I am a historian of twentieth century science and science studies scholar, whose research examines the mid-twentieth century repudiation of racial thought via the human sciences of Anglophone, Francophone, Latin American and post/colonial worlds. My doctoral dissertation is titled “Historicizing Anti-Racism: UNESCO’s campaigns against race prejudice in the 1950s,” and examines the knowledge practices and narratives of redemption that informed UNESCO’s anti-racism campaigns in the post-WWII era.
I am currently working on two projects. The first is a conceptual history in which I am researching the meanings of self-determination in indigenous activist networks across the Anglo settler colonial world in the latter half of the twentieth century. The idea of self-determination was adopted from and influenced by anti-colonial movements in other parts of the globe where the achievement of such was premised in a sharp rupture from the colonial past. In Anglophone indigenous activism, the possibility of self-determination often came to be associated with land rights claims and efforts to prove ongoing attachment to lands and waterways. This legal framework obliged indigenous activists in the 1970s to describe and imagine self-determination in moral terms of attachment to the land and interdependency with majority settler societies rather than potentially violent detachment from the colonial past. In this history, I examine the localization and redeployment of a notion of “self-determination” in and across settler states.
In my second project, I am undertaking a cultural history of the “tribe” in the Pacific. In the late-nineteenth century, so-called “tribal” peoples who lived in areas now claimed by burgeoning settler states across the Pacific were considered to be dying out. Even those among white elites who espoused a humanitarian ethic of care thought that the native races were on a path of inevitable decline; and those identified as native often cast themselves in such terms. However, by the 1920s and 1930s, native populations had generally increased and policy-makers and native leaders were faced with new challenges of care for and development of often very poor native communities. Proposed solutions were many and various, including the biological deracination of Aborigines in Australia, the incorporation of tribal lands in New Zealand, and the “reorganization” of tribes in constitutional terms in the United States. This project examines in particular the reinvigoration of the “tribe” as a form for collective survival and development by comparing initiatives in New Zealand, Hawai’i and Australia and the various strategies that native leaders and intellectuals in particular developed in imagining new “tribal” futures.
I am currently working on a book manuscript entitled Faithful to Science: Race, Religion, and Eugenics in Chile. It examines the relationship between Catholicism and science in the twentieth century by analyzing intellectual interest in eugenic-inspired biology as an organizing principle for social reform to illuminate the construction of scientific racism in the Global South. The manuscript will argue that notions of racial superiority were not created exclusively in societies identified as white. Rather, racial privilege (or exceptionalism) as a concept was more malleable than it might have appeared.
My historical project emerges from more than a decade of researching the impact and legacies of German colonial rule in the South West Pacific, concentrating on ‘race-mixing’ and the continuity of German mixed-race elites in these colonial and post-colonial spaces. This project continues my interest in politics and identity transformation at the intersection of race and scientific knowledge production.
I analyse what impact German mixed-race peoples, as objects and subjects, had on the development of racial theory and practice in the Global South. In a longitudinal study I am exploring the transformation of identity of mixed-race German families through the 20th century, characterized by dramatic political changes, beginning with the end of the German colonial empire, and ending with independence and post-colonial Pacific Islander nations and Namibia. My focus is on three ex-German Protectorates, that became mandates of the League of Nations in 1921, transformed after WWII until independence into Trusteeships of the United Nations: Samoa, under New Zealand administration, New Guinea, under Australian administration, and Namibia, administered by South Africa.
For mixed-race Germans, jostling between shifting colonial and national regimes, race was always an arbitrary signifier; assessment of descent was not legally clear-cut for colonial subjects generally but relied on additional moral and emotional judgments. Such indeterminacy also enabled a limited degree of personal agency for manipulation and subversion of racial status, particularly by people with real or imagined connections to Germany. Likewise mixed-origins provided a link to indigeneity during periods of anti- and post colonialism, necessitating radical identity transformation.