Ohio University Press · Swallow Press ·

Butterflies & Barbarians
Swiss Missionaries and Systems of Knowledge in South-East Africa

By Patrick Harries

“Harries points out in detail the intellectual heritage of the missionaries in terms of their anthropological, religious, geographical, scientific, and linguistic beliefs.... The book is deeply researched and gives the reader a strong sense of the ferment out of which missionaries tried to make sense of their vocations.”

International Journal of African Historical Studies

“(T)his lavishly illustrated volume remains a towering achievement that lifts mission studies to a level of sophistication rarely achieved in the past.”

Journal of African History

“This book is a masterly work of detailed transnational research in at least five languages, deft analysis, and intentional crafting. With sure deliberation, the narrative steps between continents and forward and backward in time. The prose is smooth, the photographs evocative. Many thanks to the publisher for reproducing a set of them in colour.”

Environment and History

“The intellectual lives of one small group of Swiss missionaries suggest a new perspective on the dynamic relationship between Europeans and Africans involved in missions.”

Terrae Incognitae

Swiss missionaries played a primary and little-known role in explaining Africa to the literate world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This book emphasizes how these European intellectuals, brought to the deep rural areas of southern Africa by their vocation, formulated and ordered knowledge about the continent.

Central to this group was Junod, who became a pioneering collector in the fields of entomology and botany. He would later examine African society with the methodology, theories, and confidence of the natural sciences. On the way he came to depend on the skills of African observers and collectors. Out of this work emerged, in three stages between 1898 and 1927, an influential classic in the field of South African anthropology, Life of a South African Tribe.

Patrick Harries is a professor of history at the University of Basel and author of Work, Culture and Identity: Migrant Laborers in Mozambique and South Africa, c. 1860–1910.   More info →

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Retail price: $34.95, S.
Release date: August 2007
304 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights: World (exclusive in Americas, and Philippines) except British Commonwealth, Continental Europe, and United Kingdom

Retail price: $80.00, S.
Release date: August 2007
304 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights: World (exclusive in Americas, and Philippines) except British Commonwealth, Continental Europe, and United Kingdom

Additional Praise for Butterflies & Barbarians

“This is a book about Swiss missionaries, Thonga, and systems of knowledge in southeast Africa, but it is also very much about power and its limits in contested intellectual and cultural arenas.…This is a satisfying and detailed book. Whether on the topic of butterflies, botanizing unexplored terrains, the implications of literacy, or the politics of university appointments, Harries efforts are clearly up to Junod’s high standards.”


“Harries excels in describing the intellectual influences that informed the scientific endeavors of the missionaries. His focus on the Swiss missionary contribution offers a unique angle on the history of science in Africa.”

ISIS—Journal of the History of Science Society

Butterflies and Barbarians deserves a wide audience. Students in advanced undergraduate and graduate courses on African history, imperialism, and missionaries would find many insights here on the politics of knowledge in a colonial setting.”

African Studies Quarterly

“Taking apart Junod’s categorical and analytical modes of understanding and sorting through them, Harries shows us exactly how the levered interactions of knowledge, power, and negotiation worked, in the critical era of missionaries’ assemblage of ethnographic knowledge.”

American Historical Review

“Patrick Harries has put together a richly textured, subtly argued book, covering an enormous amount of ground. A brief review cannot do justice to its intricate texture.... This sophisticated book will be of interest to a variety of historians as well as to other scholars.”

International Review of History

“This book should become required reading, alongside David Maxwell on Zimbabwe, Birgit Meyer on Ghana, and John Peel on Nigeria and the Yoruba, when it comes to illuminating the missionary enterprise, and as an important text for the relation between Christianity and the sciences.”

Books & Culture

“Patrick Harries’s Butterflies & Barbarians fills an important detailing Swiss missionaries’ part in creating European knowledge about south-eastern Africa in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”

Journal of Southern African Studies

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