Princeton Workshop in the History of Science
Mobility of Knowledge: Local Science in WOrld Contexts
Mary J. Henninger-Voss and Michael S. Mahoney, organizers
This year's theme explores the transmission and exchange of technical practice and natural knowledge across cultural boundaries. How have science and technology been transformed through cultural exchange, and how has culture been extended through scientific exchange? What role has been played by intermediaries, and who or what has played that role? In particular, how have agents of western and non-western science informed one another, and how have societies adopted, assimilated, or rejected various forms of foreign knowledge. What intellectual transactions have accompanied trade and conquest at different times in different places? What happens when knowledge produced in one location confronts knowledge produced in another location defined by a different set of laws and customs, different modes of material production, and different beliefs about nature, cosmology, and the human body? In short, how has travel affected the cultural identity of science and technology? Are all forms of natural knowledge affected in the same way, or are some ways of knowing and bodies of practice more mobile and adaptable than others? In our own age de facto universal practice of western science, technology, and medicine seems to render moot the question of whether science can be a genuinely oecumenical,as Joseph Needham once claimed, or will flourish as a complex of peculiarly western concepts and practices. Our sessions will focus on the following issues.
Traditional Cultures. Before 1500, western Europe was one of many traditional cultures with roughly comparable varieties of mathematical practice, technical skill, and explanatory accounts of the natural world. In the larger world of which Europe occupied a small corner in the northwest, the cultures of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia had long pursued their own forms of engagement with nature. How did these societies translate mathematics, medicine, cosmology, and technical crafts from other cultures into their own? How did they restructure the natural knowledge of cultures distant in time or place to fit new constraints and possibilities? Examination of these translations and re-makings over the period before western hegemony offers a form of intellectual longue durée, a field against which we might come to some different evaluation of technical practice and scientific activity that stands apart from the dynamic of European society since the Renaissance.
Colonization. The colonial enterprise brought the European core to the periphery by negotiating a place for technology, science, and medicine in foreign societies, even while employing science to distinguish colonizer from colonized. What role did science and technology play in Europe's "civilizing mission"? How did Europeans seek to engage their colonial subjects in a common scientific enterprise? How was the practice of science transformed in colonial settings? In the interplay between dominating power and indigenous culture, how did these practices and beliefs intervene in perceptions of the body, in the use of natural resources, or in the structure of colonial society itself? The colonial setting allows scrutiny of the production of scientific knowledge under conditions of asymmetric power relations and of the degree to which various forms of scientific knowledge are culturally situated.
Globalization. The twentieth-century has been marked by the autonomous pursuit of western science and technology by societies around the world, both in collaboration and in competition with the nations of Europe and North America. Rapid transportation and instant communications connect people, materials, and information in a world-wide network, where logistics seems to outweigh culture in determining who does what where. As we come to share both our natural resources and labor force on a global scale, ecologists look to preserve both widely shared resources and very local nichesHow has this globalization of science both unified and fragmented the world? Do multinational firms and international research centers, or 'science cities' form a new cosmopolis of international science or islands of privileged knowledge? As the training of scientists and engineers appears to adopt western modes across the globe and as multi-national firms increasingly expand the distance between their places of engineering, manufacturing, and marketing, we can reexamine the cultural determinants of scientific knowledge and the degree to which it is locally situated.WORKSHOP 1 - Colonialism Saturday, October 10, 10:am - 4:00pm, 211 Dickinson Hall
Commentator: Gyan Prakash, Princeton University
James McClellan - Stevens Institute
"Colonialism & Science in the Old Regime"
This paper presents an overview of French science and French colonialism in the eighteenth century. It sketches some of the institutions and modalities through which contemporary French science facilitated colonial development and, reciprocally, ways in which the colonial experience affected the course of French science prior to 1789. The paper centers on the Academie Royale des Sciences and the work of academicians and correspondents concerning matters colonial; that work pertained to astronomy, terrestrial magnetism, cartography, longitude, navigation, and taxonomic and economic botany. The paper concludes with two close-up colonial 'vignettes' that explore the dynamics of the transmission of knowledge across cultural boundaries in the Old Regime: the advent of Mesmerism in colonial Haiti and the reception in Paris of indigenous knowledge from the Indian Ocean. In both cases the raw power -- political and intellectual -- of French colonial and scientific authority proved decisive in shaping the outcome of events. The paper situates itself in the historiographical context of contemporary science and empire studies', and, given what is not known about science and colonialism in the Old Regime, it essays to be a guide to further research.
History Department, Rutgers University
"Recovering the Agency of the Colonizer: Patterns of Scientific and Technology Transfer in British India, c. 1780-1940"
Centre for the Study of Health and Society and Department of the History and Philosophy of Science,
University of Melbourne
"The Possession of Kuru: Field and Laboratory in Late Colonialism"
I intend to explore some of the political, anthropological and medical studies that were organized around the phenomenon of kuru in the highlands of New Guinea in the 1950s and 1960s. This will not be the definitive history of kuru, or of the Fore (the people afflicted), or of the various scientists involved in these studies; nor will I provide a genealogy for "slow viruses" or prions; rather, I hope to give an account of kuru as an object entangled in local concerns and global science, as a commodity extracted from New Guinea and refined in Australian universities and in the National Institutes of Health, and then given back, much changed. How did a cause of personal and social suffering among the Fore get turned into at least one Nobel prize? What, if anything, did this mean to the Fore? When Europeans first encountered the Fore people of the eastern highlands of New Guinea in the 1940s and 1950s, they found a large number of people with strange tremors, shaking, shivering, muscle weakness, and a general lack of control of the limbs, leading eventually to death. Called kuru, the phenomenon became the focus of political, anthropological and medical investigations. Ronald and Catherine Berndt, social anthropologists (from Sydney) who entered the region in 1952, explained kuru in terms of spirit possession and trance; they related it to earlier expressions of emotional insecurity attendant on culture contact, such as the Vailala madness. But as soon as Carleton Gajdusek (from Harvard via the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne) entered the Fore territory in 1957, he began to translate kuru sorcery into a medical vocabulary. The field practices of the cultural anthropologists and the medical scientist gave quite different meanings to kuru. Gajdusek attempted to standardize the clinical and pathological features of the "disease" of kuru, and through traffic of specimens to distant laboratories he sought the biological cause of the ailment. In 1963, Gajdusek announced the discovery of the first human slow virus infection, research for which he later won a Nobel Prize. But the evolving medical understanding of kuru required a renewed attention to ethnography -- not the cultural anthropology of the Berndts, but the medical anthropology that emerged in the 1950s and 60s. Though yet another set of field practices, the virology of kuru was linked by Lindebaum, Glasse and Matthews to Fore mourning rites, including cannibalism. Through all of this, it seems that the Fore continued to attribute kuru to sorcery, though they later conceded that the sorcery poison might be called a slow virus. The various explanations made little difference to the course of kuru; the disease had almost disappeared before it was designated as such; cannibalism was already suppressed for reasons of civility, not science; no treatments were ever developed. Few scientists now would ever refer to a slow virus; but Gajdusek's research contributed to ideas about prions and provided models to explain AIDS and Alzheimer's Disease. The investigations of kuru became exemplars for medical fieldwork and medical anthropology, even though ethical objections were raised to some of Gajdusek's practices (such as the forced autospies which Gajdusek referred to as "medical cannibalism"), and a number of scholars have doubted the role of cannibalism in the transmission of kuru. Kuru fieldwork has produced a site in which we can study the traffic between a "traditional culture" and the global institutions of science in the late twentieth century; it provides us with an opportunity to think again about the framing of "first contact"; it makes us take stock of notions of center and periphery in science; it challenges older anthropological notions of reciprocity and the gift; and it gives both real and metaphoric meaning to the terms "contamination" and "molecularization" as used in modern science and in social theory. Moreover, kuru fieldwork makes it clear that to study multi-sited global science we need to develop a multi-sited history.
Commentary Stuart McCook, The College of New Jersey
Marcos Cueto, Instituto de Estudios Peruanos
"Visions of the Global and the Local Dimensions of Science in the Andes"
Sharon Traweek, UCLA
"How Physics Made in Japan Became Local, Global, and Universal"
Stuart W. Leslie, Johns Hopkins University
"Winning Markets or Winning Nobel Prizes? KAIST and the Challenges of Late Industrialization"
Commentator: Michael S. Mahoney
Sir G.E.R. Lloyd, Cambridge University, England
"Transmissions and Transformations: Methodology and Practice with Specific Relationship to Ancient Greece and China"
I am not a transmission specialist, but I am deeply interested in the problems that the study of transmission poses. In the first part of my talk I want to try to get clear about some of the basic methodological principles that need to be observed - the rules of the game - and what kinds of results can be hoped for. One on my principal themes, in that first part, will be the diversity in the phenomena and agencies involved, the variety in what is transmitted and accordingly also in the processes and conditions of transmission and assimilation.
Thus, among the principles that it would be sensible to adhere to are first is there evidence of direct or indirect contact between the cultures concerned at the relevant period? Secondly, in default of such evidence, was contact at least possible? Third (the point on which I have placed special emphasis) what particular contexts of communication have to be envisaged - as for example between those exchanging information about technical processes, or medical practice, or astronomy. Fourthly, a point to which I shall be turning Part Two, what was made of what was communicated - to what extent were the ideas transformed when they were assimilated? Finally, as a negative test of transmission, we may consider the limits of what was transmitted, and ask why, if certain ideas crossed a culture barrier, others in the same domain did not.
In the second part I shall look very briefly at some examples (not confined to Greece and China) to develop those points. First the transmission of Pali as a sacred language. Then Indian reactions to Greek philosopny (as evidenced in the Milindapanha especially). Third, the Greek use of Babylonian astronomical data. Fourth, Panchenko's thesis of Ionian influence on Chinese gai tian cosmology. In these cases, I suggest the transmission issue is more interesting for the light it throws on attitudes towards aliens, towards the other, in the receiving culture than for the information it may provide concerning what it received. When that is so, the important point is how incoming knowledge was modified or adapted, not (simply) that it was incoming.
Jens Hoyrup, Roskilde University, Denmark
"Three Related Kinds of Quasi-Algebraic Area Geometry: Elements II (Etc.), 'Babylonian Algebra', and Surveyors' Riddles"
In the 1930s, Neugebauer advanced the thesis that the geometry of Elements II (Zeuthen's "geometric algebra") should be understood as a translation of the supposedly numerical "algebra" of the Babylonians. Around 1970, this idea came into heavy water, not least because the aim of Greek geometry could be argued not to coincide with that of the Babylonian technique.
A reading of the Babylonian texts which goes beyond the numbers and take their words seriously shows, however, that even the Babylonian art was not numerical but based on a "naive" cut-and-paste geometry, and thus to be much closer to Elements II than expected; on the other hand, comparison with a number of other text types (not leasat medieval Arabic pseudo-mensuration) shows that the link between the Greek and the Babylonian disciplines is not direct. Instead, both borrow inspiration from what seems to be a collection of riddles belonging to a non-school-based tradition of practical mensuration.
The paper will explore the different aims of the three approaches and correlate them with their different socio-cultural settings.
George Saliba, Columbia University
"Mediterranean Crossings: Islamic Science in Renaissance Europe"
Schedule of Events
The workshop will meet in 211 Dickinson Hall.
10:00 am Morning Coffee Service (210 Dickinson Hall)
10:30 Sir G.E.R. Lloyd
12:00 Buffet Lunch (210 Dickinson Hall)
1:00 Jens Hoyrup
2:30 Break (210 Dickinson Hall)
2:45 George Saliba
4:15 General Commentator: Michael Mahoney
4:30 Reception (230 Dickinson Hall)
Please call Leah Kopcsandy at (609) 258-6705 to request copies of papers, or better, send her an e-mail message at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to seeing you at the workshop.