Samuël Coghe, Population Politics In The Tropics

Laureate Seminar – Samuël Coghe, Population Politics In The Tropics, 6 April

Join us on Wednesday, 6 April 2022 @ 6pm (Sydney time) to hear Dr Samuël Coghe (Freie Universität Berlin), discuss his new work, Population Politics in the Tropics: Demography, health and transimperialism in Colonial Angola (Cambridge University Press, 2022)

Timezone conversion: 6-7pm (Sydney); 10-11am (Berlin); 9-10am (London); 1.30-2.30pm (New Delhi)

Abstract: From the 1890s, a devastating epidemic of sleeping sickness and shifting views on the colony’s ‘native’ population triggered mounting anxieties of depopulation among colonial officials in Angola, Portugal’s long-standing and arguably most important colony in Africa. Population Politics in the Tropics traces this depopulation discourse through the first half of the twentieth century, showing how it was constantly reiterated by alarming reports about other deadly diseases, low fertility, high infant mortality, endemic labour scarcity and rampant emigration. Only after the Second World War did it gradually fade away, yet, just like many other colonies and/or states in Central Africa, Angola did not become part of the discourse of overpopulation that was increasingly gripping the emerging ‘Third World’.

Situated at the crossroads of the history of demography, medicine and colonial rule in Africa, this book weaves together various lines of research. First, it explores the ambiguous role of demographic knowledge in the making and unmaking of the depopulation discourse. It argues that assessments about the size and evolution of the ‘native’ population were partly based on demographic data that were clearly incomplete, flawed and often also contested, but that colonial actors did not hesitate to instrumentalise for their purposes. Second, the book shows that colonial actors conceived a broad array of policies to stem the demographic tide, but that their implementation was often hampered by weak state structures, internal conflicts and multiple forms of African agency. Going beyond the ‘medical focus’ in many colonial population histories, the book not only attends to the emergence and vicissitudes of colonial healthcare programmes aimed at tackling epidemic and endemic diseases and improving maternal and infant healthcare. It also showcases the importance of colonial attempts to curb cross-border emigration. Third, the book also examines the transimperial dimensions of Portuguese population policies. Revealing the manifold and often unexpected exchanges, connections and parallel developments with the policies of other colonial powers, Population Politics makes a broader argument against reductionist views of Portuguese colonial exceptionalism still common in historiography.

Samuël Coghe is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Global History Department of the Free University of Berlin. After studying the abolition of the Transatlantic slave trade, his work has explored the history of Portuguese colonialism in Africa, with a particular focus on the history of medicine, demography and anthropology in Angola. His current research deals with the transformation of cattle economies and veterinary knowledge regimes in colonial Africa.