Michitake Aso

Ph.D. Candidate
History of Science
University of Wisconsin, Madison

Dissertation Research Fellow

Forests Without Birds: Tropical Agriculture and Medicine in French Colonial Vietnam, 1890-1954

My dissertation examines the history of tropical agriculture and tropical medicine in French colonial Vietnam. This project takes the rubber plantations of southern Vietnam as its case study and focuses in particular on the social and environmental consequences of the introduction of rubber to this region. The political economy of colonialism, the environment, and scientific knowledge played key roles in the emergence of the rubber industry during the 20th century. In order to discuss workers’ lives and environmental transformations, this dissertation analyzes the business of rubber, workers' experiences of plantation life, and the region’s natural and social landscapes. Rubber plantations represented, among other things, a material embodiment of medical ideas concerning health in the tropics. Thus, they were not only places of brutal working conditions, but also experimental sites where knowledge was generated, tested, and implemented and where conceptions of human rights were debated and reworked, often violently.