Photographer unknown; Selmar Schonland Herbarium, Rhodes University, South Africa.
Project (2012-2013)

Overland to Lobito Bay: The 1925 Scientific Expedition of Dorothea Bleek and Mary Pocock

In 1925, Dorothea Bleek and Mary Agard Pocock mounted a seven-month expedition, which took them from Cape Town, north by rail to the Victoria Falls, then by foot and palanquin—a mode of transport popular among colonial officials—through Zambia, western Zimbabwe, and central Angola to the coastal town of Lobito Bay. The aim of the expedition was divided between the twin-interests of Bleek and Pocock—extending existing research on /xam and !kung peoples and collecting plant specimens.

Drawing on unpublished diaries, photographs, watercolors, and plant collections, my project deals with Bleek’s and Pocock’s contributions to San ethnography and botany in Southern Africa. The project examines the history of European travel and anthropology in Southern Africa and investigates the colonial context for Bleek and Pocock’s scientific work. The project seeks to further understanding about the status of San peoples within anthropological discourse; it contributes to the burgeoning scholarship on the Bleek family, and constitutes the first book-length treatment of Pocock’s work. The project hopes to make Bleek’s work productive for the study of San culture, and Pocock’s collection productive for concerns about biodiversity, ecological degradation, and the impact of climate change. Finally, it raises questions about the significance of gender and sexuality in early twentieth-century scientific knowledge making.