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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Upcoming Meetings

  • Friday, February 24, 2023 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EST

    Histories of Science in Latin America and Asia: A Conversation Across Regions

  • Friday, March 24, 2023 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EDT

    Alexander Statman (UCLA), “Canal: Cross-Cultural Encounters and the Control of Water"
    Duygu Yildirim (University of Tennessee), "Coffee: Of Melancholic Turkish Bodies and Sensory Experiences"
    Discussant: Ahmed Ragab (Johns Hopkins University)

  • Friday, April 28, 2023 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EDT

    Paper Discussion: 'Revolutionary Vision: Myopia, Socialist Youth and Public Health Campaigns in China (1960-1976)’
    Yixue Yang (University of California, San Diego)
    Discussant: Dora Vargha (Humboldt University Berlin)

  • Friday, May 26, 2023 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EDT

    Shireen Hamza (Harvard) and Eric Moses Gurevitch (Vanderbilt), "The Promise of Medieval Sciences, the Perils of Global History."

  • Friday, June 23, 2023 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EDT

    Paper discussion
    Siddhartha Mukherjee (Jawaharlal Nehru University), "Controlling the Currents: Electricity Crisis and State Response in Delhi during the Second World War"
    Discussant: Victor Seow (Harvard University)

Past Meetings

  • January 27, 2023

    Marjan Wardaki (Yale), "The Birth of Modern ‘ilm : Between Indo-German Theosophy and Islamicate Philosophy"
    Discussant: Marwa Elshakry (Columbia)
    This paper traces the birth of modern educational institutions in Afghanistan from 1901 to 1945, focusing on the case study of the German-educated Afghan pedagogue, ‘Ali Ahmad Fofolzay. Among various state reforms was also the birth of the Afghan Ministry of Education (f. 1924), which was responsible for a wide range of duties that included developing new disciplines, overseeing the translations of foreign scientific book, and inspecting museum artifacts. The paper follows Fofolzay’s life at different periods of his life and at across these new educational institutions, including at the University of Jena in Germany. Through a microhistorical analysis of his writings, the paper seeks to analyze the dialogue between the Afghan thinker and his intellectual interlocutors, who were also thinking about similar relationships between knowledge and the practice of making knowledge applicable. The goal of the paper is to show why Afghanistan’s experimentation with ‘ilm provides both a broader lens into interregional exchanges, but also shows local variances that help us reshape our thinking about Islam and science. 
    If you plan to attend the event and would like to read the paper in advance, please email Marjan Wardaki (

  • October 28, 2022

    Book Discussion: Buddhism and Medicine Across Asia
    Pierce Salguero, A Global History of Buddhism and Medicine (Columbia University Press, 2021).
    Discussant: Anthony Cerulli (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

  • June 24, 2022

    Elise Burton (University of Toronto), "A Lexicon of Science"

  • May 27, 2022

    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.

  • 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.

Group Conveners

  • mbrazelt's picture

    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.


  • EMGurevitch's picture

    Eric Moses Gurevitch

    Eric Moses Gurevitch is a National Endowment for the Humanities postdoctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University. He received a PhD in 2022 from the University of Chicago, jointly in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations and the Committee on the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science. His research focuses on precolonial South Asia and aims to tell a more-global history of science in which unexpected voices, practices and events come to stand alongside more standard narratives.


  • charu's picture

    Charu Singh

    Charu Singh is an Assistant professor in Non-Western History of the Sciences at the University of Cambridge. She is interested in transformations in colonial scientific subjectivity and the powers of the premodern and modern sciences and their practitioners in colonial and postcolonial societies. 


  • Duygu's picture

    Duygu Yildirim

    Duygu Yıldırım is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Tennessee. She is a historian of science and medicine specialized in the early modern Mediterranean and in the Ottoman Empire. Broadly, her work focuses on cross-cultural interactions, translation, materiality, embodiment, critical historiography, and the relationship between knowledge-making and faith.


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