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Science and industrial development: lessons from Britain’s imperial past
Sabine Clarke
in Science at the end of empire
Sabine Clarke

It is practically a cliché to state that the British government did nothing to foster the growth of secondary industry in the British West Indies and that the first phase in the pursuit of industrial development after 1950 was inspired by the work of W. A. Lewis. This chapter revises this narrative by showing that Pioneer Industries legislation to encourage industrialisation in Trinidad was in place before the intervention of Lewis, and was in more accord with the concessions for new industry advocated by the Colonial Office in London. This is unsurprising when we consider that one of the authors of the Pioneer Industries legislation was an Economic Advisor seconded to Trinidad by the Colonial Office. This advisor was Arthur Shenfield, an advocate of minimal state intervention in economic affairs (in contrast to Lewis), and later in life, President of the Mont Pelerin Society. Altogether, the Colonial Office was successful in steering policy for industry along lines it saw as desirable until the 1956 elections that brought Eric Williams to power. This success was achieved not by direct instruction by London but through the judicious use of expert advisors.

in Science at the end of empire
Open Access (free)
Sabine Clarke
in Science at the end of empire
Sabine Clarke

The Colonial Products Research Council at the Colonial Office created a Sugar Technology Laboratory and Colonial Microbiological Research Institute in Trinidad during the late 1940s. The STL was partly funded by West Indian sugar manufacturers and explored the industrial uses of sugar cane and its by-products. The CMRI studied fermentation methods, sought ways to control fungal diseases of crops and man, and had a reference collection of useful microbes. The two laboratories in Trinidad were intended to be a tangible, visible, intervention in the British Caribbean at a point when the Colonial Office mostly offered advice on industrial development. Their function in conveying Britain’s commitment to modernising the colonies was derived from their status as world centres for science. The STL and CMRI were described as places of fundamental research into general scientific phenomena, and the prosecution of this type of work was said to allow Trinidad to participate in the international advance of science. This ability to contribute to the global circulation of knowledge was intended to be demonstration of Britain’s commitment to modernising its colonies.

in Science at the end of empire
Sabine Clarke

Scholars have repeatedly said that the Colonial Office actively frustrated any hopes for Caribbean industrialisation. In fact, officials saw the development of secondary manufacturing as essential after the Second World War, in order to raise living standards and contain political dissent. Officials in London were occupied in the 1940s with the question of what constituted acceptable modes of intervention by government to facilitate diversification, consulting a number of experts, including W. A. Lewis. The challenge was to reconcile the need to demonstrate a more constructive approach with some long-standing laissez-faire principles. Two wider issues made Colonial Office attempts to persuade the colonies to follow its preferred route to industrialisation difficult, however. The increasing political autonomy of governments in the Caribbean meant that Britain could not merely instruct its possessions to follow its edicts. In addition, it became clear that the US sought to expand its influence in the Caribbean, and the promotion of models of industrialisation derived from the experience of Puerto Rico became part of American strategy. In the face of these challenges, the dissemination of economic advice by the Colonial Office assumed unprecedented importance.

in Science at the end of empire
Open Access (free)
Sabine Clarke

Widespread riots occurred across the British Caribbean during the 1930s. The cause was very poor economic conditions during the Depression that resulted, in part, from the collapse of the price of cane sugar. In response, the Colonial Office formulated a solution to Caribbean problems in which sugar would be transformed from a foodstuff in oversupply to a raw material for manufacturing synthetics and fuels. Inspired by the interest shown by major chemical firms such as ICI into the use of sugar and molasses as starting compounds for making polythene and other new materials, the CO initiated a programme of scientific research into the chemistry of sugar. The goal was to find a permanent solution to the persistent problems that affected the Caribbean. In making a commitment to this scheme, officials took a different path from that embodied in the proposals of the recent Moyne Commission that historians have often said provided the blueprint for policies for the Caribbean after 1945.

in Science at the end of empire
Experts and the development of the British Caribbean, 1940–62
Author: Sabine Clarke

This book produces a major rethinking of the history of development after 1940 through an exploration of Britain’s ambitions for industrialisation in its Caribbean colonies. Industrial development is a neglected topic in histories of the British Colonial Empire, and we know very little of plans for Britain’s Caribbean colonies in general in the late colonial period, despite the role played by riots in the region in prompting an increase in development spending. This account shows the importance of knowledge and expertise in the promotion of a model of Caribbean development that is best described as liberal rather than state-centred and authoritarian. It explores how the post-war period saw an attempt by the Colonial Office to revive Caribbean economies by transforming cane sugar from a low-value foodstuff into a lucrative starting compound for making fuels, plastics and medical products. In addition, it shows that as Caribbean territories moved towards independence and America sought to shape the future of the region, scientific and economic advice became a key strategy for the maintenance of British control of the West Indian colonies. Britain needed to counter attempts by American-backed experts to promote a very different approach to industrial development after 1945 informed by the priorities of US foreign policy.

Sabine Clarke

Sugar research was only one of a large number of new projects created with the passing of the 1940 Colonial Development and Welfare Act. The Act included a Research Fund that made the Colonial Office the second largest sponsor of civil scientific research in Britain. Scientists and officials spoke of the need to use the Research Fund to support more ‘fundamental research’. The key value that informed the new arrangements intended to expand fundamental research was ‘freedom’. Scientists at the Colonial Office claimed that for the highest quality research to occur, scientists had to be free to choose their own research problems. When it came to sponsoring sugar research as the basis for new industry, freedom was also key. The Colonial Office formed a Colonial Products Research Council to fund research into the basic reactions of sugar, avoiding narrowly defined problems that directly related to the work of any individual firm. Researchers would pursue research of the broadest possible nature, leaving individual companies to apply the results according to their interests. In this way, state-sponsored research would not contravene the principles of liberal political economy.

in Science at the end of empire
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The predicament of history
Bill Schwarz

The term ‘West Indian’ always represented a complex of competing ideas, a resource for both colonial and anticolonial politics. West Indians were colonial Britons who experienced the civilisation of the British, in Britain, from a very particular vantage. Three overlapping and interconnected areas of thought are addressed: race and ethnicity; the project of decolonisation; and the historical imagination itself. The issue of the popular brought the cultural activists of Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM) hard up against the question of British civilisation. It suggests that the work of decolonisation in its expansive register requires popular self-activity, not only on the part of the colonised but on the part too of the native citizens of the metropolis. Maybe in the future the most profound impact of Caribbean thought will be on the capacity to imagine the past, and to strive to bring it into consciousness.

in West Indian intellectuals in Britain
John Marriott

This chapter focuses on metropolitan poor and colonial peoples, which are often considered as one of the most threatening antitheses to progress. The writings of travellers and evangelicals were by far the most influential and provided the clearest evidence of a concern—realized in practical action—that embraced the plight of slaves and the poor. In terms of their chronologies, rhetoric, narratives and agencies, there were distinct homologies between the discursive appropriations of the antithesis of progress during the long nineteenth century. Agents operating across narrowly defined boundaries using an intellectual and linguistic repertoire forged from the transformation in human consciousness conceptualized imperial progress on the fronts of slavery, poverty and colonialism. Furthermore, the chapter explores the rise of the idea of progress and how it structured British thought on the place of non-European peoples in the new world order.

in The other empire