Tamson Pietsch

Intellectual Geographies and the Universities of the British Empire, 1850-1939

Intellectual Geography / Wednesday 7 September, 2011

This paper provides a point of comparison with the modern period. It will consider the themes of the conference as they relate to the academic networks that stretched between the universities of the British settler empire in the period between 1850 and 1939. These networks were both extensive and uneven and they worked to establish new alignments of proximity and distance. Though started by the migration of professors from Britain to universities in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, these networks were both part of and a response to the wider processes that in this period were driving the interconnectedness of the modern world. Shifting geo-politics; increasing global economic integration; a new emphasis on scientific research; and revolutions in transport and communication that radically improved the circulation of people, products, and information, all pressed these settler universities to institute deliberate measures designed to forge closer connections abroad. Using the physics network of Ernest Rutherford and T. H. Laby as a case study, the paper will pay particular attention to the ways that social connection recast the intellectual geographies of empire, bringing ‘colonial knowledge’ deep into the heart of ‘metropolitan’ expertise. It will reflect on the challenges and opportunities of such a study and consider the sources, methods, and conceptual frameworks I have found useful.