Why is the decolonization of the history of modern science and technology important in Eastern Europe?

Why is the decolonization of the history of modern science and technology important? So that we can understand why Francis Bacon’s iconic title page image of a European caravella navigating through the pillars of Hercules in his book Instauratio Magna (Great Instauration, 1620) or Novum Organum Scientiarum (“new instrument of science”), which indicated the new program for modern empirical (colonial) scientific development, was actually taken from Andrés García de Céspedes’s book, Regimiento de navegación (Madrid, 1606). This shows the Northwestern European (Dutch, British, German), Protestant hegemonic shift, which stigmatized the downfall of “luxurious”, “inefficient”, “rapacious”, “unindustrialized”, “state-led capitalist” Spain, the Iberian or Southwestern European imperial-colonial project, against the “industrial revolution” and “scientific revolution” of the Northerners, the latter of which the image became a symbol. The deconstruction of this narrative is important in revealing the concealed global histories of colonial scientific and technological development, which was partly a precondition for the development in the new hegemonic centre in Europe. The South American decolonialist approach might be an important influence in decolonizing Eastern European knowledge production, since the Northwestern-Atlantic-Protestant narrative of scientific development, largely present in social scientists’ work such as Max Weber or Karl Marx, was dominantly diffused in Eastern Europe as our Eurocentric understanding of global scientific and economic development. I was educated according to this narrative already in primary school. This story will be included in my chapter on decolonizing Eastern European history of science and technology in the book Technosciences of Post/Socialism planned to be published somewhere in 2018.

Credit goes to Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra‘s work in which I’ve read about parts of the argument I am making. Read a brief overview on William Eamon’s blog.

For those more professionally engaged in the history of science, find a superb overview of annotated literature here.


The first All-African Peoples’ Conference on 5-13 December 1958 in Accra

You can read about the event and all later conferences on wikipedia.

“The ‘All-African Peoples Conference’ (AAPC) was partly a corollary and partly a different perspective to the modern Africa states represented by the Conference of Heads of independent Africa States. The ‘All-Africa Peoples Conference’ was conceived to include social groups, including ethnic communities and anti-colonial political parties and African organizations such as Labor Unions and other significant associations in the late 1950s and early 1960s both in Africa and the Diaspora such as Europe, North America and South America.

The first conference was preceded by a Preparatory Committee composed of representatives from the eight independent African states—other than South Africa. (They were EthiopiaGhanaGuineaLiberiaLibyaMoroccoTunisia, and the United Arab Republic.) The conference itself was attended by delegates from 28 African countries and colonies. The number of delegates was more than 300, and the conference claimed that they represented more than 200 million people from all parts of Africa. Tom Mboya, General Secretary of the Kenya Federation of Labour, was elected chairman.

One important discussion was over the legitimacy and desirability of using violence against the colonial powers. It was agreed that violence would be necessary in some cases. Concerning the struggle in Algeria, full support was given to the recently proclaimed Provisional Republican Government (Gouvernement Provisoire de la République Algérienne—GPRA). On the Cameroon, the Conference supported the fight of the UPC maquis, demanding full amnesty and UN-sponsored elections. The Conference considered unity and solidarity to be key strategies in the fight against colonialism and economic domination after colonialism; it called for the establishment of Africa-wide organisations, including trade unions youth groups, and a Bureau of Liberatory Movements. It was at this meeting that the decision was made to establish a permanent secretariat at Accra. The first secretary-general was George Padmore, then living in Ghana. The following year, he died and was replaced by Guinea’s Resident Minister in Ghana, Abdoulaye Diallo.”


Hungary and Ghana, 1950s-1960s

21083554_1409636279072924_5180471301300472123_oMy research report to the Open Society Archives turned out to be a draft of a lengthy working paper that summarizes some of the materials I have been working with. You can read about my OSA research proposal here.

Even from this vastly text I had to leave out a lot of other materials. Unfortunately I will only have time to work again on this later, so I decided to share here some thoughts that could not be included.

One of the books that were very influential to me (but haven’t included into the draft) gave me a great overview of the early Eastern European relations towards decolonizing/ed Africa (the “Third World”). What I find most interesting is not only the relative autonomy of the Eastern Bloc in developing their foreign relations, but also the continuities between previous colonial era and postcolonial relations. Another issue is the role of China, not only how the Sino-Soviet split influenced the Soviet Union to maintain the relative autonomy of the Eastern Bloc, but also China’s early postcolonial trajectories in gaining a foothold in Africa.


“By 1958, well before substantial new opportunities arose south of the Sahara, East Europe’s trade with Asia, the Middle East, and some parts of Africa was already greater than that of the Soviet Union; ithad more than doubled since 1954 and amounted to approximately five per cent of the area’s total trade. Some of this commercial activity, of course, was no more than a partial return to normal trade patterns that had been interrupted by the war and later inhibited for political and ideological reasons. Yet the very fact that old patterns existed and could be resumed was important, since the arrival of East European traders and governmental representatives in Africa did not appear to the new states as a novel or menacing overture, but rather as a natural resumption of established policies.”

— Robert and Elizabeth Bass: Eastern Europe, in: Zbigniew Brzezinski: Africa and the Communist World, Hoover Institution, 1963, p. 88.

Speaking from the Semi-Periphery: Decolonizing Geographical Knowledge Production in Socialist Hungary, 1960s to 1980s

In recent months I’ve prepared a new research plan/paper on the stuff I’ve been doing, connected to my work in the 1989 After 1989 project:

The “spatial turn” in the history of scientific knowledge has called into question abstract notions of scientific development and specifically national disciplinary and institutional narratives. The past two decades has seen a growing number of studies in the historical geographies of scientific knowledge (HGSK), aiming to understand where knowledge is produced and disseminated, and how the content of knowledge changes in motion and adapts to local contexts and social interests (Livingstone 2003; Powell 2007; Withers 2009). Recently, increased globalization has summoned an upsurge of research focusing on interconnectedness through knowledge networks and circulations, transnational histories and global comparative studies, arguing against the “methodological nationalism” of previous research in favour of alternative transnational concepts (Keim et al. 2014; Conrad 2016).

On the other hand, postcolonial and decolonial approaches have contested Eurocentric or Westcentric epistemological frameworks and discursive formations, providing a reassessment of multiple or alternative modernities and elucidating the hierarchical orders of knowledge regimes (Chakrabarty 2007; Boatca and Costa 2012). However, much of this original literature on postcolonialism focused either on the global centre or the former colonial world, silencing in-between semiperipheral contexts such as Eastern Europe under transitory and provincialised terms such as “postsocialism,” while there has been little theorizing between the “posts” (Chari and Verdery 2009). This marginalization process has also led to the concealment of Second-Third World relations and the interdependency of centre and periphery contexts in an interconnected global context (Ward 2010; Mark and Apor 2014).

While the perceived non-colonial background of Eastern Europe provided excuses for many in the region to distance themselves from postcolonial studies (Moore 2001), historical studies have nevertheless shown the existence of long-term structures of hierarchical dependency and East-West “civilizational slopes” even since the Renaissance and the Enlightenment (Wolff 1994), which have well endured into socialist and postsocialist times (Melegh 2006). This continuity is well captured by the self-Orientalizing development and geographical concepts in social science, geography and economic history (Petrovici 2015). These can be exemplified by various contexts: the enduring dichotomies of “Eastern” and “Western” development (Éber et al. 2014), the “catching-up” neoliberalist transitology (Stenning and Hörschelman 2008), the “civilizing mission” of European Union accession (Böröcz and Sarkar 2005), the subaltern adaptation of development policy models, and the uneven reproduction of Western academic hegemony.

This research argues for “decolonizing” diffusionist and neoevolutionist theories that have been appropriated as the dominant narrative of the global centre and imposed upon the Eastern European context (Boatca and Costa 2012). Simultaneously it argues for a global perspective of transnational interconnectedness in understanding Eastern European developments in the production of geographical knowledge. It does so by using contemporary literature in critical geography and international relations, and specifically in postcolonial, decolonial theory and world-systems analysis to deconstruct internalised structures of dependency and global hierarchies inherent in Eastern European geographical epistemologies. By “speaking from the semiperiphery,” it aims to reassemble local knowledge production on global geographical concepts, in light of overlooked global historical interconnectivity between “East” and “West.” The research aims to apply these theoretical insights to understanding how Hungarian reform economists tried to position the country in various global imaginations between the 1960s and 1980s in the context of integrating into the world economy and thus breaking away with Cold War concepts amidst increasing global competition and economic restructuration due to crises.

After World War II, the imperialist and nationalist-revisionist ambitions of the Hungarian state elite crumbled with the demise of the previous “high imperialist” era. The Communist takeover and the process of Sovietization created a new setting under the imperial and colonial influence of the Soviet Union, and a rise of economist experts succeeding the pre-WWII primacy of geographers. Stalinist orthodoxy summoned a dichotomous Cold War imagination of separate “capitalist” and “socialist” worlds, soon to be called “world systems,” while the production of geographical knowledge and textbooks on regional geography also followed this essential dichotomy. But the détente period after de-Stalinisation and the gradual opening up of diplomatic and trade relations due to an economic upturn in the world economy and the process of decolonisation led to reconfigurations in global geographical and development imaginations.

The maintaining of the Eastern European “buffer zone” necessitated the Soviet Union to foster trade relations both with the West and the so-called Third World. Eastern European reformers in Poland and Hungary pushed towards “market socialism”, as acquiring advanced technology and foreign currency from the West implied finding ways to finance development either through foreign loans or export-oriented growth, and facilitated exporting expertise and investments into the Third World and searching for state-led development models abroad, such as in Spain, South Korea and Chile (Bockman, Feygin and Mark forthcoming). These reformist ambitions generated a virulent debate and the emergence of new geographical concepts connected to the country’s shifting foreign trade policies and lobbying activity in international organizations (UN, UNCTAD, GATT) in order to manoeuvre between “East” and “West.”

While the concept of the “Third World” was disregarded by Eastern European socialist countries, they aimed to reposition themselves between “developed” and “undeveloped” countries in an urge to “catch up” with the West. By the 1970s in Hungary, some new concepts such as “semi-periphery,” “small economies” (Kádár 1971), “open economies” (Kozma 1980) had emerged in the Centre for Afro-Asian Research (1965-) and the Institute for World Economy (1973-) at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, which consequently developed the new field of area studies. In turn, some Western concepts, such as Wallersteinian world-systems analysis and the concept of “semiperiphery” were influenced by Eastern European economic historiography. In later developments, the series of Fejlődés-tanulmányok [Development Studies] published in 1978–1989 and journals such as Világtörténet [World History] introduced the new fields of development studies, world-systems analysis, centre-periphery thinking and postcolonial theory into the fields of area studies and international relations.

This research thus aims to understand through historical materials of scientific publications and policy papers connected to these institutions how alternative geographical conceptions of socialist globalization emerged and permeated global imaginations in area studies. The theoretical-methodological novelty of this research lies in connecting the approaches of transnational or global history, political economy and the history of ideas: Hungarian semiperipheral knowledge production is conceptualised in the interconnected contexts of centre-periphery relations.


Boatca, M., Costa, S. (2012): Postcolonial Sociology: A Research Agenda. In: Rodríguez, E. G., Boatca, M. (eds.): Decolonizing European Sociology: Transdisciplinary Approaches. Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate Publishing.

Bockman, J., Feygin, Y., Mark, J. (forthcoming): The Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and Alternative Globalisations 1950s–1980s. Manuscript.

Böröcz, J., Sarkar, M. (2005): What is the EU? International Sociology, 20(2): 153–173.

Chakrabarty, D. (2007): Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Chari, S., Verdery, K. (2009): Thinking Between the Posts: Postcolonialism, Postsocialism, and Ethnography after the Cold War. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 51(1): 6–34.

Conrad, S. (2016): What is Global History? Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Éber, M., Gagyi, Á., Gerőcs, T., Jelinek, C., Pinkasz, A. (2014): 1989: Szempontok a rendszerváltozás globális politikai gazdaságtanához. Fordulat, 21.: 10–63.

Gille, Z. (2010): Is there a Global Postsocialist Condition? Global Society, 24(1): 9–30.

Kádár, B. (1971): Kis országok a világgazdaságban. Budapest: Közgazdasági és Jogi Könyvkiadó.

Keim, W., Celik, E., Erche, C., Wöhrer, V. (eds.)(2014): Global Knowledge Production in the Social Sciences: Made in Circulation. Corchester (UK): Ashgate.

Kozma, F. (1980): A nyitott szerkezetű gazdaság. Budapest: Kossuth.

Livingstone, D. N. (2003): Putting Science in its Place: Geographies of Scientific Knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mark, J., Apor, P. (2014): Socialism Goes Global: Decolonization and the Making of a New Culture of Internationalism in Socialist Hungary, 1956–1989. The Journal of Modern History, 87: 852–891.

Melegh, A. (2006): On the East-West Slope: Globalization, Nationalism, Racism and Discourses on Central and Eastern Europe. Budapest: CEU Press.

Moore, D. C. (2001): Is the Post- in Postcolonial the Post- in Post-Soviet? Toward a Global Postcolonial Critique. PMLA, 116(1): 111–128.

Petrovici, N. (2015): Framing Criticism and Knowledge Production in Semi-peripheries: Post-socialism Unpacked. Intersections, 1(2):

Powell, R. C. (2007): Geographies of Science: Histories, Localities, Practices, Futures. Progress in Human Geography, 31(3): 309–329.

Stenning, A., Hörschelman, K. (2008): History, Geography and Difference in the Post-Socialist World: Or, Do We Still Need Post-Socialism? Antipode, 40(2): 312–335.

Ward, S. (2010): Transnational Planners in a Postcolonial World. In: Healey, P., Upton, R. (eds.): Crossing Borders: International Exchange and Planning Practices. London and New York: Routledge. 47–72.

Withers, C. W. J. (2009): Place and the “Spatial Turn” in Geography and in History. Journal of the History of Ideas, 70(4): 637–658.

Wolff, L. (1994): Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment. Stanford University Press.

Where were the oldest universities outside “Europe”?

The “university” is a very Eurocentric term: it is said that because there were no “corporations” in the “East”, the archetype schools of higher education did not exist there, which is, of course, not true (apart from the academies of antiquity, noteworthy is the Byzantine unversity, which was not based on “corporation” but “charity trust”). Due to this conception, European expansion could be traced in geographical space by the establishment of European learned societies, the so-called “unversities”. I’ve just discovered that the first universities outside “Europe” were founded mainly by Spanish monks in the 16th century in colonial Latin America. The oldest is in Santo Domingo, today the Dominican Republic (Universidad Santo Tomás de Aquino, 1538), which makes it the first university established in the Western hemisphere. The oldest one still in operation is in Lima, Peru (Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, 1551) and the oldest in North America is in Mexico (Real y Pontificia Universidad de México, 1551). The first university in Asia was founded in The Philippines (Universidad de Santo Tomás, 1611), but colleges were developed from 1589 on (some became universities afterwards). This was 25 years after the route accross the Pacific Ocean was discovered in 1565.


“The Royal and Pontifical University of Santo Tomas, established by the Dominican missionaries in 1611 and raised to the rank of a University in 1645 by Pope Innocent X through the petition of Philip IV of Spain, is currently the educational institution with the oldest extant University charter in Asia.”