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Migrating Knowledge: The Global Knowledge Networks of German Medic, Botanist and Migration Commissioner Wilhelm Hillebrand in Hawai‘i (1821-1886)

Project description

Science and labour migration in 19th century Hawaii

In the 19th century, Hawaii experienced a wave of labour migration that included international migrants. Wilhelm Hillebrand was a German medic and botanist who served as an immigration commissioner and played a significant role in the migration process that included bodies, plants, animals, medicines and techniques. The EU-funded MIGKNOW project will explore the intersecting, transnational knowledge network used by Hillebrand during his operations as an immigration commissioner. The project will combine the study of colonial migration and knowledge during the period to examine how transnational scientific actors obtained knowledge and expertise and whether colonial migration was associated with science. It will research the role of 19th century scientific networks in plantation-based labour migration systems and Hillebrand’s legacy.


Taking its lead from my pilot study in the ERC AdG project The Colour of Labour (no. 695573) on the international actors involved in labour migration to 19th-century Hawai‘i, this project researches the intersecting, transnational knowledge networks German medic, botanist and immigration commissioner Wilhelm Hillebrand used to direct the wide-scale migration of bodies, plants, creatures, medicines and techniques to the Hawaiian Islands. With the mentorship of Prof. Dr. Ulrike Linder (University of Cologne), an expert in the history of migration and comparative colonial history, I will gain training through research in the linked study of colonial migration and knowledge in the age of empire. Crossing the history of migration and the history of science, the project tackles the following issues: (i) how transnational scientific actors possessed and performed expertise as part of highly mobile careers in the 19th century; (ii) whether colonial migration was a type of colonial science; (iii) how to analyse the “colonial” in independent Hawai‘i; and (iv) the legacies of European global actor networks in the 19th-century Pacific. The research plan consists of 4 research-based work projects that use close study of Wilhelm Hillebrand’s networking practices to investigate different conjunctures between knowledge, labour and migration in the mid 19th century. Connected research on the careers, biographies, correspondence and ideas of Hillebrand’s global associates will develop insights about the porosity of emerging knowledge forms and scientific networks during the 19th century, and their role in plantation-focused labour migration regimes. Through high-quality mentoring from the supervisor and training in research and transferable skills at the UoC’s Institute of History and Global South Studies Centre, this project will prepare me for employment across Europe in midcareer, tenure-track positions in global history.



Net EU contribution
€ 174 806,40
Albertus magnus platz
50931 Koln

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Nordrhein-Westfalen Köln Köln, Kreisfreie Stadt
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00