Laura Ann Twagira, assistant professor of history, is the author of an article titled, “‘Robot Farmers’ and Cosmopolitan Workers: Technological Masculinity and Agricultural Development in the French Soudan (Mali), 1945–68,” published in the November issue of Gender & History, Volume 26, Issue 3, pages 459-477.
In 1956, Administrator Ancian, a French government official, suggested in a confidential report that one of the most ambitious agricultural schemes in French West Africa, the Office du Niger, had been misguided in its planning to produce only a ‘robot farmer’. The robot metaphor was drawn from the intense association between the project and technology. However, it was a critical analogy suggesting alienation. By using the word ‘robot’, Ancian implied that, rather than developing the project with the economic and social needs of the individual farmer in mind, the colonial Office du Niger was designed so that indistinguishable labourers would follow the dictates of a strictly regulated agricultural calendar. In effect, farmers were meant simply to become part of a larger agricultural machine, albeit a machine of French design. Read the full article, online here.
Laura Ann Twagira, assistant professor of history, received the 2013 ICOHTEC Young Scholar Book Prize from the International Committee for the History of Technology. The ICOHTEC is interested in the history of technology, focusing on technological development as well as its relationship to science, society, economy, culture and the environment.
Twagira was honored for her Rutgers University dissertation on the study of women’s development of food technology in early 20th century colonial west Africa, Women and Gender at the Office du Niger (Mali).
“Twagira’s dissertation successfully characterizes and contextualizes the technological gestalt of a mundane and routine, but absolutely necessary task: putting acceptable food on the family table. She sets this daily chore, for which historically women in Niger/Mali were responsible, not only into what she calls the ‘foodscape’ of the natural environment, but also into the context of efforts at colonial development that mainly targeted men’s activities,” said Rachel Maines, chairwoman of the ICOHTEC.
“Twagira makes us sharply aware that cookware, containers, heating equipment, and agricultural hand implements, plus the tacit knowledge of how to make successful products using these tools, is no less a technological system than is farming with a tractor or the manufacture of semiconductors. Twagira’s work is exemplary in its framing of women as decisionmakers and significant actors under a colonial regime that recognized economic and technological development only in male-dominated forms of work.”
The award will be bestowed in Manchester, United Kingdom in July.
At Wesleyan, Twagria teaches “The Environment and Society in Africa” and “Gender and Authority in African Societies.”