Missions for Science: U.S. Technology and Medicine in America's African World

Missions for Science: U.S. Technology and Medicine in America's African World

Missions for Science: U.S. Technology and Medicine in America's African World

Missions for Science: U.S. Technology and Medicine in America's African World


Missions for Science traces the development and transfer of technology in four Atlantic regions with populations of predominantly African ancestry: the southern United States, the Panama Canal Zone, Haiti, and Liberia. David McBride explores how the pursuit of the scientific ideal, and the technical and medical outgrowths of this pursuit, have shaped African diaspora populations in these areas, asking:

-- What specific technologies and medical resources were transferred by U.S. institutions to black populations centers and why?

-- How did the professed aims of U.S. technical projects, public health, and military activities differ from their actual effects and consequences?

-- Did the U.S. technical transfer amount to a form of political hegemony?

-- What lessons can we learn from the history of technology and medicine in these key geographic regions?

Missions for Science is the first book to explain how modern industrial and scientific advances shaped black Atlantic population centers. McBride is the first to provide a historical analysis of how shifting environmental factors and disease-control aid from the United States affected the collective development of these populations. He also discusses how independent black Atlantic republics with close historical links to the United States independently envisioned and attempted to use science and technology to build their nations.


The coming of Africans to the western side of the Atlantic Ocean and the making of the many societies and subsocieties of African Diaspora populations throughout the Americas began over four centuries ago. Since the discovery of the New World, Africans have journeyed with European explorers and settlers. Together the newcomers opened paths and outposts for flows of settlers and slaves. Searches for natural riches, exotic goods, or fertile soil were interwoven with quests for religious and political freedom. the New World environment offered territory for the settler communities to develop polities free from the restrictions of Europe's monarchies and orthodox churches. Gradually farms, skilled trades, plantations, and manufacture emerged. As this loose network of mechanics, traders, and technical activities grew, it laced together the early economy of colonial North America.

During the colonial period, the European settlers used a mosaic of tools, farming styles, and plantation methods, as well as artisan skills and weaponry. Some of these techniques and tools were transplanted from the Old World. Others were adopted from Native Americans and/or enslaved Africans, or invented in the colonial settlements. Only with these tools and techniques could the settlers convert the new wilderness into economic use. Mechanical manufacturing, mathematical landscaping, and new armaments from Europe's artisans and scientists were also incorporated into this early regime of technical activity. As the wave of technical activities and instruments grew, the colonies needed more energy resources that, in turn, made necessary large energy technologies. By the time the North American colonies were a young republic, water wheels and steam engines, mills, factories, coach routes, and rail lines were radiating west throughout the interior of the New World along the Atlantic coast.

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