In this unique and unprecedented study of birding in Africa, historian Nancy Jacobs reconstructs the collaborations between well-known ornithologists and the largely forgotten guides, hunters, and taxidermists who assisted them. Drawing on ethnography, scientific publications, private archives, and interviews, Jacobs asks: How did white ornithologists both depend on and operate distinctively from African birders? What investment did African birders have in collaborating with ornithologists? By distilling the interactions between European science and African vernacular knowledge, this stunningly illustrated work offers a fascinating examination of the colonial and postcolonial politics of expertise about nature.
Nancy J. Jacobs is associate professor in the department of history at Brown University. She is the author of Environment, Power and Injustice: A South African History. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
"[...] There are perhaps, to this reviewer's taste, a few too many diversions concerning subjects of ethnological but no direct ornithological interest. But the extensive story telling here that concerns some of the African actors in this study, and their supervisors, is often a pleasure to read, and there are many surprises, even for those who know much of the story already. The book is extensively illustrated, presenting a number of people and incidents that have been forgotten. [...]"
– Robert J. Dowsett, Ibis 161(2)
"Like the African honeyguide, Nancy Jacobs has led us to great riches. She beautifully describes the fascination of humans for birds, and thereby greatly illuminates (post-)colonial relations between humans."
– Robert Ross, Leiden University
"The author provides a thoughtful, timely and, in many respects, exhaustive study of the accumulation and exchange of bird lore in Africa. This work fills a notable gap in the (English, at least) literature with respect to African perceptions of what has traditionally been understood from a specifically North American/European perspective."
– Jill Payne, University of Cambridge
"In this adventurous narrative that explores how relationships between humans and birds determined the course of African ornithological knowledge, Jacobs challenges accepted stereotypes and charts a new direction in African history."
– Jane Carruthers, University of South Africa
"A masterful achievement, advancing our understanding of human knowledge about birds in Africa and the ways gender, culture, and empire shaped science, recreation, and individual lives."
– Thomas R. Dunlap, author of In the Field, Among the Feathered
"Jacobs takes readers on a sweeping history of birding in Africa and the relationships among ornithologists, guides, and recreational bird watchers that ensued. Its intimate and touching portraits of the lives of African collectors and guides reveals much about the power relations and changing dynamics of scientific work in colonial and post-colonial Africa."
– Gregg Mitman, author of Reel Nature: America's Romance with Wildlife on Film
"In the territory in which she is working, Jacobs has no equal. The book covers a topic – relations of race and class within the African continent's birdwatching community – that no one has addressed so synthetically and comprehensively until now."
– Daniel Lewis, author of The Feathery Tribe