(Post)Colonial Cattle Frontiers: Capitalism, Science and Empire in Southern and Central Africa, 1890s-1970s

01 October 2023 → 30 September 2028
European funding: framework programme
Principal investigator
Research disciplines
  • Humanities
    • African history
    • Business and labour history
    • Socio-economic history
    • World history
African history History of colonialism global history of science commodity history global economic history Social history Global History
Other information
Project description

This project explores the transformations in cattle production in Southern and Central Africa during the colonial and early postcolonial period. During this period, (post)colonial  governments, scientists, entrepreneurs and settlers promoted a broad range of interventions to overcome the allegedly uneconomic attitudes of African pastoralists and turn cattle into profitable commodities. Adopted, adapted, contested or eluded by African cattle herders and owners, these interventions transformed pre-existing cattle economies, pastoralist societies, rural ecologies and animal populations in many and often unexpected ways. This history, however, is still under-studied, only partially understood and marginalised in both African and global history. This project breaks new ground by offering the first history of these transformation processes from hoof to table, for multiple empires and over a long time frame, and by integrating them into global history through the concept of ‘commodity frontiers’.

It pursues these objectives through a series of interlocking case studies on French, Portuguese and Belgian (post)colonies in Southern and Central Africa. These draw on multi-sited and multilingual archival work and combine methodological approaches from African, social, economic, environmental, colonial and global history, as well as the history of science. The project not only rewrites and rethinks the history of Africa’s (post)colonial cattle economies. In so doing, it will also write livestock back into the agricultural and socio-economic history of Africa thus far focused on cash crops and minerals, integrate African cattle in global economic and commodity history and greatly enhance our knowledge of the history of veterinary science and knowledge.

By analysing how the interplay of global capitalism, science and empire transformed cattle regimes in Africa and beyond, it will also enhance our understanding of current debates on the social and ecological costs of livestock production.

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Council Executive Agency (ERCEA). Neither the European Union nor the authority can be held responsible for them.