Science Across Regions in Asia
This group engages questions regarding the deconstruction of imperial visions and definitions of the sciences in Asia, and explores how new work can contribute to the diversification of perspectives in the history of science.
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Friday, May 27, 2022 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EDT
Sayori Ghoshal (Columbia University), "Experts of Identities: Race, Religion and Caste in Nationalist Science, India 1920-50"
Discussant: Sandra Widmer (York University)
How did the fluid, local and contingent identities in precolonial India become fixed, naturalized and pan-Indian in colonial India? What was the role of colonial knowledge and anticolonial nationalism in this history of identities? How did the religious, caste-based and ethnic identities become the site for decolonising scientific knowledge? Introducing anthropometry and race science in late 19th century India, the British colonial state mapped India’s various caste and religious communities as disparate races, civilizationally inferior to Europeans. As an anticolonial response, Indian scientists rejected the claim that Europeans were racially superior to Indians. However, they did not dismiss race itself as a scientific object. In this paper, I demonstrate how, in reconfiguring physical anthropology, serology and statistics as nationalist sciences, Indian intellectuals produced biological histories of religious and ethnic identities. They measured physical features and blood composition of Indian Muslims, to determine their religious and racial origin. The question of origin was as useful in developing the sciences as for evaluating claims and self- identities of Indian Muslims and Christians. The racial and religious pasts of communities were fundamental to building the nation and determining which communities would be included in the nation. Since these studies involved scientific measurements of anthropometric features and statistical calculations, the truth of the racial, religious identity came to be the domain of trained experts. This implied that self-identity of people as Hindus or Muslims were construed as only a part of one’s identity. The truth of the entire identity – whether Muslims and ‘low-castes’ had the same racial origin or whether Muslims originated outside the subcontinent – would be henceforth accessible only to trained experts. I argue that race, caste and religion, thus, contributed to the production of nationalist scientific expertise in India.
Friday, June 24, 2022 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EDT
Elise Burton (University of Toronto), "A Lexicon of Science"
April 29, 2022
Energy History in Asia: Book Discussion
Victor Seow, Carbon Technocracy: Energy Regimes in Modern East Asia (University of Chicago Press, 2021)
On Barak, Powering Empire: How Coal Made the Middle East and Sparked Global Carbonization (University of California Press, 2020)
February 25, 2022
Hasan Umut (PhD, McGill University), "The Confessional Turn in Early Modern Ottoman Cosmology"
Comments by Travis Zadeh (Yale University, Religious Studies)
January 28, 2022
Nicole Barnes (Duke University), "On Soil and Sustainability, Or, Who Cares about Shit?"
Comments by Gonçalo Santos (University of Coimbra)
October 22, 2021
Yang Li (Princeton University), "Antibiotics, Atomic Bomb, and the Nationalization of Scientific Expertise in Early Socialist China, 1949-1966"
May 21, 2021
Workshop: Donald Opitz (DePaul) & Banu Subramaniam (Univerity of Massachusetts, Amherst)
This week, Don Opitz and Banu Subramaniam have kindly shared with us their proposal for a compendium of primary sources, under contract with Routledge and in an early stage of development. Here's a note from the authors:
The document we are sharing offers an overview of the project with virtually the same detail that the publisher considered prior to approving our contract. During the session, we also hope to pitch questions to the group to engage us in sharing insights on “doing” postcolonial science studies, specifically with respect to the challenges of identifying and accessing relevant sources, “narrating” those sources, and other closely-related methodological considerations. Our framing question is: “How can we retell narratives of colonial and postcolonial science and gender through critical engagement of primary sources? How might we rethink what counts as a source?”
April 23, 2021
Workshop: Minakshi Menon (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin)
Discussant: Staffan Müller-Wille (University of Cambridge)
“What is Indian Spikenard?”
“What is Indian Spikenard?”, asked the eighteenth-century orientalist, Sir William Jones, in a famous paper, published in Asiatick Researches, Volume II (1790). The question serves here as a point of entry into Jones’s method for creating culturally specific plant descriptions to help locate Indian plants in their Indian milieu, as a first step to identifying commercially valuable plants for the East India Company state.
This paper discusses Jones’s philological method for establishing the jaṭāmāṁsī of the Sanskrit verse lexicon, the Amarakośa, and materia medica texts, as the “Spikenard of the Ancients”. Philology, for Jones, was of a piece with language study and ethnology, and undergirded by observational practices based on trained seeing, marking a continuity between his philological and botanical knowledge-making. The paper follows Jones through his textual and “ethnographic” explorations, as he creates both a Linnaean plant-object – Valeriana jatamansi Jones – and a mode of plant description that encoded the “native” experience associated with a much-desired therapeutic commodity. The result was a botanical identification that forced the jaṭāmāṁsī to travel across epistemologies and manifest itself as an object of colonial natural history. In the words of the famous medic and botanist, William Roxburgh, whose research on the spikenard is also discussed here, Jones’s method achieved what “mere botany” with its focus on the technical arrangement of plants, could not do.
March 19, 2021
Elise Burton, Genetic Crossroads: The Middle East and the Science of Human Heredity (Stanford University Press, 2021)
Elena Aronova, Scientific History: Experiments in History and Politics from the Bolshevik Revolution to the End of the Cold War (University of Chicago Press, 2021)
February 12, 2021
Workshop: Noa Nahmias (York University)
Discussant: Grace Yen Shen (Fordham University)
‘The world of science at your doorstep’: Universal and national visions in Popular Science magazine, 1933 - 1937.
This chapter asks how science popularizers in China in the 1930s addressed questions of science as universal and science for national strengthening. It does so by examining the magazine Popular Science (Kexue huabao 科學畫報) from 1933 to 1937, focusing on the magazine’s publishing infrastructure, its material aspects such as formatting and visuals, and its circulation. I posit that Popular Science contained competing narratives on what science meant for China. On the one hand, the publisher and editors produced a transnational imaginary of science, while on the other hand they were committed to creating a local version of modern science.
January 15, 2021
He Bian, Know Your Remedies: Pharmacy and Culture in Early Modern China (Princeton University Press, 2020)
Harun Kuçuk, Science without Leisure: Practical Naturalism in Istanbul, 1660-1732 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019)
December 4, 2020
Syllabus Workshop with Science beyond the West (Department of History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania)
We'll begin the session with a quick outline of our plans for the rest of the year, following on from last month's introductory discussion. After some consultation, and regret that it's impossible to discuss all the books mentioned at that session, we as organisers are suggesting that for our January meeting, we discuss chapters from Bian He's Know Your Remedies and Harun Küçük's Science without Leisure, and in March we'll have a celebratory discussion of both Elise Burton's Genetic Crossroads and Elena Aronova's Scientific History. This selection ensures that we can support members' work and cover a range of chronologies and geographies.
The main focus of Friday's session will be a syllabus workshop, put together with the generous help of the Science beyond the West Working Group, in which our group members have kindly volunteered to share syllabi on histories of science in Asia/non-western spaces (you should soon be able to download the materials for the seminar on the working group's web page under "Meetings"; Nir Shafir's syllabus includes a link to previous final projects, which you can find here:
We'll first have a discussion about how to approach the task of writing a syllabus. What kinds of considerations are different depending on the context and audience, i.e. undergraduate survey vs graduate seminar? What kinds of factors should be considered in selecting a course title? In the readings, alongside the syllabi we've included two pieces that set out some relevant pedagogical issues, James Delbourgo's "The Knowing World" and Yulia Frumer's "What is and isn't in a Name": how are these authors' experiences useful for us? Then, we'll move to breakout groups for conversations about the syllabi to be workshopped. Please bear in mind that these syllabi represent works in progress, and do not circulate them beyond the group.
Mary Augusta Brazelton
Mary Brazelton is Associate Professor in Global Studies of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Cambridge. Her research interests lie broadly in historical intersections of clinical medicine, the life sciences and public health, in China and around the world.
Shireen Hamza is a doctoral candidate at Harvard University’s Department of the History of Science. With the support of the SSRC-IDRF, she is researching a dissertation about the history of medicine in the medieval Indian Ocean World.
Charu Singh is a Lecturer at the department of History at Stanford University. She is a historian of modern South Asia and her research focuses on science in translation for vernacular publics. She is especially interested in transformations in colonial scientific subjectivity, and the powers of the modern sciences and their practitioners in colonial and postcolonial societies.
Duygu Yıldırım is a Max Weber postdoctoral fellow at the EUI in Florence. She received her Ph.D. in History from Stanford University in 2021 with her dissertation, “The Age of the Perplexed: Translating Nature and Bodies between the Ottoman Empire and Europe, 1650-1730.” Her research focuses on comparative and connected histories of science and medicine in the intellectual cultures of the early modern Mediterranean world. Her research has been supported by the Social Science Research Council, the Renaissance Society of America, the NEH Summer Institute, the Rare Books School at the University of Virginia, Stanford’s Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis, the Stanford Humanities Center, and the Dan David Prize Scholarship, among others.