The Chemical Empire: Insecticides and Locust Control in East Africa after 1940

Lunchtime Lectures
Wednesday, November 11, 2020
1:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m.
Online Event | Eastern Standard Time (UTC -5)
United States

Our understanding of the way DDT was deployed in Africa after the Second World War has focused a great deal on programs to control malaria by the World Health Organization. This talk will explore an area of insecticide application that is much less well documented, but was given a higher priority during World War II and after: the control of the desert locust. In order to prevent famine in the region and maintain supplies to Europe, Britain launched a substantial international effort to control the desert locust during WWII using the synthetic insecticides DNOC and BHC. In the post-war period, a new organization was created in Kenya that carried out experiments with insecticides and aircraft-spraying techniques.

This talk will also explore how the experiments done in East Africa after 1940 informed the notion among British researchers that the new chemical insecticides were “safe” to use. It will also consider the reasons why British locust scientists often failed to convince herdsman in Kenya that this was, in fact, the case.


About the Speaker

Sabine Clarke is senior lecturer in modern history at the University of York. She works on the history of science, technology, and medicine in Britain and its colonial empire between World War I and 1965, with a particular focus on the Caribbean and East Africa. Her monograph, Science at the End of Empire: Experts and the Development of the British Caribbean, 1940–1965 was published by Manchester University Press in 2018. Sabine’s current project is called “The Chemical Empire: A New History of Synthetic Insecticides in Britain and its Colonies, ca. 1920–1970” and is funded by a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award.


About the Series

Now combined with our Saturday Speaker Series, Lunchtime Lectures take a rigorous and entertaining approach to exploring topics for scholars and anyone interested in stories about the history of science. The talks help expand perceptions of the nature of science and how it’s done. This season, our speakers are exploring issues of gender, race, and colonialism in the history of the physical and biological sciences from the early modern period to the 21st century.