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Colin Bos


Colin Bos specializes in the social and intellectual history of West Africa and the history of science. His dissertation, provisionally titled “Conservators of the World: Sacred Objects, Archaeology, and the State in Southwestern Nigeria,” traces the longue durée history of buried relics in the Nigerian city of Ilé-Ifẹ̀. Between the 12th and 14th centuries, Ilé-Ifẹ̀ produced strikingly naturalistic sculptures made of terracotta and brass. Most of these objects were uncovered by the city’s residents in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. “Conservators of the World” explores how the work of twentieth-century archaeologists and other preservation officials became entangled in contests over the ownership and meaning of sacred objects among Ifẹ̀’s civic and spiritual authorities. It sheds new light on debates about the repatriation of antiquities, the nature of the colonial and postcolonial state, and the practice of scientific research in Africa.

In other work, Bos has explored the history of West African ideas about science, medicine, and disease. He published an academic article on this subject in Isis, the journal of the History of Science Society, which examines the life and writings of John Augustus Abayomi Cole, a Sierra Leonean medical practitioner and public intellectual who in the late nineteenth century used the term “science” to describe African knowledge systems. This article argues that marginal intellectuals like Cole, whose thought was shaped by several interlocking local and intercontinental forces, were instrumental in generating the concept of civilization-specific science in Africa and elsewhere.

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