EUROCENTRISM AND THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY*

Gloria Emeagwali

Professor of History

History Department

CCSU

New Britain

CT06050


Several strategies have been used to reinforce the myth that regions outside Europe contributed nothing to the development of science and technology either in terms of hardware or software- the view that historically the majority of the world have been passive recipients of a so-called Western science and technology. Here are some of the strategies used by a long line of deceptive scholars.
    Selective Omission of Information

Silence reigns with respect to non-European predecessors of significant inventions.Thales is declared the Father of Science but the partial Asian parentage of Thales whose mother was Phoenician ( Lebanese), or Pythagoras, possibly of similar parentage, is hardly ever mentioned. The constant interaction of the Ancient Greeks with their African counterparts is ignored, even when the Greeeks themselves gratefully acknowledge this interaction.

Euphemisms and Circumlocutions

Neckam's magnetic compass is represented as being" similar to the Chinese one," in a well-known text. There is no attempt to acknowledge the fact of prior invention by the Chinese.

The Conferment of Honorary Western Nationality

Westernization of the names of outstanding scientists and their devices; and the Europeanization of scientific documents and processes are frequently done. These ploys are used to undermine equal and fair assessment of the global multiregional history of science and technology.The Egyptian Claudius Ptolemeaus and the Algerian/Tunisian Constantine assume European identity in some of the texts, whilst West Asian (Middle Eastern )scholars such as Ibn Sina (Avicenna), al-Kindi (Alkindius), Ibn Rush'd (Averroes) and al-Ghazali (Algazel) become indistinguishable from their European counterparts.The ancient Egyptian arithmetical and medicinal documents become known as the Rhind, Ebers and Edwin Smith papyri, and the comet identified by the Chinese as early as 2,500 years ago is attributed to Haley.

Blind Citation of Greco-Roman References

European progenitors are created where they do not really exist. That the Greek alphabet is largely of Syrian/Lebanese origin and that there is a proliferation of loan words in both languages is hardly ever explained. The African and Asian origin of many linguistic terms and concepts associated with the Greco-Roman cultural zone, is concealed from the unsuspecting layman.

In a brief article titled "Africa, Cradle of Writing" and published in the Africana Bulletin, African Studies Center, No.42. December 1998/January 1999 Boston University, Konrad Tuchsherer points out that "over 5,000 years ago in Egypt, Africans developed their system of hieroglyphic writing, the world's earliest known script. Scholars have traditionally asserted that the earliest writing systems emerged at the end of the fourth millennium BC in Mesopotamia and that the idea of writing was borrowed in Egypt around 3100BC at the onset of the First Egyptian Dynasty. New evidence uncovered by archeologists in Egypt, however,has revealed that Africans employed their hieroglyphic system at least 150 years earlier than the Sumerian in Mesopotamia, around 3250BC." Not only was the Egyptian system the source for the development of Tifinagh and Ethiopic but it also inspired the Hebrew and Arabic scripts and indirectly the Greek, Roman and Cyrillic scripts, according to Tuchsherer.

Double Standards of Assessment

Most of the technological creations of Africa are assigned to artistic designations. Africans find some of their scientific and technological achievements confined to fine art museums. The scientific and technical processes underlying the creation of various inventions are deliberately trivialized.

Rumors and Innuendo

Africa is assailed for not inventing the wheel as if (to imply that) it were a European invention. The fact remains, though, that Greek and Roman wheeled vehicles and chariots are the directs heirs of Mesopotamian ingenuity. Moreover, African Saharan rock paintings reveal chariots and wheeled vehicles of great antiquity.


Manipulation of Dates

The birth of modern science is often associated with the 17th century, admittedly a period of intensified intellectual activity on the part of European scholars. But it may be that Modern Science predates such eurocentric boundaries.It is as difficult to conceive of mathematics without the Hindu-Arabic numerals, the concept zero and algebraic notations as it is to think of optics without al-Haitham and al-Kindi. It is difficult to conceive of Galileo without the pendulum.The Hindu-Arabic numeral system revolutionized mathematical thought by facilitating the use of decimals and the solution of complex equations. See Islamic Science


Of Chinese origin are numerous inventions, including the following:

printing

gunpowder

the compass

paper money

the mechanical clock

helicoptor tops

the parachute

deep drilling


For more on China visit these sites.

Sivin's Bibliography on Ancient Chinese Technology

China The Beautiful

Chinese Museums and Historic Sites


The stirrup, the sternpost rudder, the lateen sail, the abacus, the pendulum, the game of chess the axle, the bow drill, the chisel, and the wedge are all of non-European origin. The latter did for building technology what the Mesopotamian and African sailboat, barge, freight and wheeled vehicle did for navigation and communication.Add to these the Persian (Iranian) windmill, and watermill, the predecessors of the modern water turbine, and we have an array of devices which constitute important landmarks in the history of power generation. Glass, cement, enamel and porcelain; the nail and saw; the printed book and the compass, all join this list.The check (cheque) is not of European origin. Arab traders pioneered this important commercial device.


Inventors such as Ibn Yunus the Egyptian and Pi Cheng, identified with printing from movable type, are very seldom acknowledged. It is interesting to note that the first printed text on record dates back to 868AD. It was found in the Gobi Desert in Northern China . It was vertically printed and was apparently one of numerous mass-printed texts sent to various Buddhist temples.


In the orthodox eurocentric accounts the proverbial engineers are the Romans but what of Persian, Mesopotamian and African expertise in that field? The first underwater tunnel was constructed in ancient Iraq, a feat as noteworthy as the Egyptian embankment across the Garawi valley 850 years earlier. The stone wall terraces of Gwoza in Northeast Nigeria are significant evidence of engineering skill and so, too, are the fortifications of Benin, which cover over 2,500 square miles and consist of more than 500 interconnected enclosures. These remain major engineering feats not only of West Africa but of the world. The enclosures of Zimbabwe, the Lalibela churches of Ethiopia, Axumite obelisks and sphinxes, as well as Sudanese (Nubian) and Egyptian pyramids, of Ancient Southern and Northeast Africa, are no less impressive. For more on Africa view some of these.


Scholars such as Gerbert of Aurillac formed part of a long line of European pioneers of technology transfer, including such distinguished seekers of knowledge as Adelard of Bath, John of Seville, Leonardo of Pisa and Albert the Great. Leonardo of Pisa's exposure to mathematical scholarship in Algiers, North Africa, facilitated the introduction into Europe of one of the most significant innovations in the history of mathematics, namely, the Hindu-Arabic numeral system cited earlier. These scholars added to the diffusion of skills and techniques by pilgrims, trading columns, migrant craftsmen, professional spies and diplomatic missions, and indirectly injected greater precision and accuracy in the works of engineers, technologists, and artisans.

Northeast African battleships, Mesopotamian armor and Chinese gunpowder became integrated in much of the conventional warfare of early Europe.It is seldom mentioned that the industrial revolution developed largely on the basis of Asian- derived techniques and a complex system of import substitution and protectionism on the part of British producers. South Asian cotton fabrics were imitated and copied by the British who tried to reverse the historical manufacturing capabilities of that region to turn India into a mass exporter of raw cotton. For more on India go to South Asian History.

Halsall's Sourcebook on India


Native Americans gave the world a major portion of the crops now in cultivation including:

a.potatoes

b. the cacao bean

c. varieties of beans

d. strawberries

e. corn

f. sunflowers

g. tomatoes

h. cassava

Their agricultural expertise is often neglected and seldom acknowledged.


In more recent times African countries have been overwhelmed by various problems.Having been handicapped in various ways in the period of colonial rule, they find themselves affected by various tendencies including some of the following:

1.The high rate of obsolescence of contemporary technology

2.The loss of skilled manpower and expertise to Euro-American regions

3.The existing structure of secrecy and competition

4.The high cost of patents, trademarks and licenses

5. The imposition of IMF- derived structural adjustment policies which directly and indirectly affect economic and technological growth

See the IMF and Africa



*This is a modified updated version of an earlier paper first published by Gloria T. Emeagwali, in Science and Public Policy, Journal of the International Science Policy Foundation, Surrey, UK

volume 16. no.3.1989


See Christos Evangeliou, The Hellenic Philosophy: Between Europe, Asia and Africa, Institute of Global Cultural Studies, University of Binghamton, 1997 p. 118-9. ISBN 1-883058-42-2


See also some classic texts on Eurocentrism:

Samir Amin, Eurocentrism, Monthly Review, 1988

J.M Blaut, 1492: The Debate on Eurocentrism and History, AWP, 1992

J.M Blaut,The Colonizer's Model of the World, Guilford, 1993

A.G Frank, Re-Orient,Univ. of California Press, 1998

Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing The Past- Power and the Production of History, Beacon, 1995

Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism, Vintage, 1994

See also James Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, Touchstone, 1996

Martin Bernal, Black Athena, The Afro-Asiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Rutgers University Press, 1991


Review of Eurocentric Authors and Texts

1. BRAUDEL

(Reviewed by Gloria Emeagwali)


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Send comments to Dr. Gloria Emeagwali, History Department, Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, CT06050 Tel: 860-832-2815