Helen Tilley

Cite as:

Okune, Angela. 2018. "Helen Tilley." In STS in "Africa" Personal Careers. In STS in "Africa" in Formation, created by Angela Okune and Aadita Chaudhury. In STS Across Borders Digital Exhibit, curated by Aalok Khandekar and Kim Fortun. Society for Social Studies of Science. August.

Meta-Narrative

Helen Tilley is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Northwestern University. She examines medical, environmental, and human sciences in colonial and post-colonial Africa, emphasizing intersections with environmental history, development studies, legal history, and global history. Her book, Africa as a Living Laboratory: Empire, Development, and the Problem of Scientific Knowledge (Chicago, 2011) explores the dynamic interplay between scientific research and imperialism in British Africa between 1870 and 1950. 

Her current project focuses on the history of African decolonization, global governance, and the ethnoscientific projects that accompanied state building in the colonial and Cold War era. She is investigating, in particular, the different scientific studies and legal interventions in the twentieth century that originally helped to construct “traditional medicine” as a viable category of research and policy-making.

This PECE essay helps to answer the STS Across Borders analytic question: “What people, projects, and products exemplify how this STS formation has developed over time?”

This essay highlights prominant and upcoming individuals working on critical science and technology issues in Africa and is part of a broader exhibit on "STS in Africa."

STS Across Borders In Brief

STS Across Borders is a special exhibit organized by the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) to showcase how the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) has developed in different times, places and intellectual traditions. The gallery-style exhibit is part of the 2018 4S meeting in...Read more

Tilley, Helen. 2011. Africa as a Living Laboratory: Empire, Development, and the Problem of Scientific Knowledge, 1870-1950. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Abstract: " Tropical Africa was one of the last regions of the world to experience formal European colonialism, a process that coincided with the advent of a range of new scientific specialties and research methods. Africa as a Living Laboratory is a far-reaching study of the thorny relationship...Read more
Tilley, Helen. 2010. “Global Histories, Vernacular Science, and African Genealogies; or, Is the History of Science Ready for the World?” Isis 101 (1): 110–19.

AO:  In this 2010 article, Helen Tilley argues, like Schumaker, for a field-based approach to studying colonial science and argues that vernacular science is an important area of study to study the situated nature of colonial science and the role that scientists and researchers play...Read more