Drift 25, Rm. 002 27 Jul 2019 Organized Session
Thematic Approaches to the Study of Science 09:00 - 11:45

This panel explores how dynamics of cross-cultural interactions changed from the early modern to the modern period and how such dynamics influenced the formation and interpretation of natural, medical, and cultural knowledge in different imperial contexts. Organized chronologically, from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, these papers examine imperial entanglements in different parts of Asia, Europe and North Africa, and highlight the ever changing role of cultural mediation in negotiating differences between medical traditions, recipes, rituals of healing, and institutional spaces. Addressing modes of collaboration as well as coercion, these papers speak to novel methodologies for understanding a range of historical realities from the perspective of different actors. They engage with early modern experiences of collecting, interpreting, and using nature; European and indigenous encounters through texts and markets; modern manifestations of multi-lingual rituals of healing; animal-human relations in sacred time; and collected objects in modern institutions mediating the past, present, and future. Comparatively, these papers ask how different approaches to and definitions of the "cross-cultural" fare against the test of time along a global scale.

Organized by Genie Yoo and Sebestian Kroupa

Georg Joseph Kamel (1661-1706): Natural and Medical Knowledge in Transit between the Philippines and Europe
09:00 - 09:30
When stationed in Manila at the turn of the eighteenth century, the Jesuit pharmacist Georg Joseph Kamel found himself engaged in encounters between European and local traditions of knowledge. Based on his local experience, he produced extensive treatises of Philippine flora, which were later printed in Europe. Focusing on the practices involved in Kamel’s knowledge production, this paper will explore Kamel’s strategies in translating Philippine nature from local to European contexts. I will open with an examination of Kamel’s plant classification system, which reveals categories of knowledge inspired by Filipino indigenous traditions and shows entanglements between European science and local exigencies. However, upon arrival in Europe, these hybrid categories found little understanding among sedentary European naturalists and became lost in translation. Kamel was more successful in his attempts to transplant Philippine medicinal herbs. Through building associations with plants described by canonical authors of the Old World, Kamel sought to ‘Galenise’ Philippine medicinal plants – that is, to incorporate them into the Galenic medical tradition. In this manner, Kamel endowed plants with clear theoretical foundations comprehensible to European experts and customers and paved the way for their deployment on both local and global scales and markets.
The World in One Recipe? Noël Vallant (1632–1685) and Non-European Remedies in Seventeenth-Century Paris
09:30 - 10:00
Examining the recipes of Noël Vallant (1632–1685), private physician of Parisian nobility, this paper focuses on non-European substances used in medical therapies in seventeenth-century France. The question of what happened to ‘exotic’ remedies entering the European market has been previously neglected. The example of Vallant, who was well-positioned to access and prescribe newly arriving drugs of all kinds, promises particularly valuable insights into how an early modern French physician approached these substances and sought to employ them. I will open with a brief overview of the seventeenth-century Parisian medical marketplace, followed by an illustration of Vallant’s strategies in acquiring non-European remedies and associated knowledge and an analysis of his recipes, where non-European and European substances met and interacted. These cross-cultural encounters reveal that imported remedies like clove, ginger, or turmeric were not uncommon among the Parisian nobility around 1650 and became frequently entangled with magic or traditional European therapies in processes which produced novel forms of therapy.
Clues in Recipes and Verses: Transmission of Malay-Language Books of Medicine and Cross-Cultural Mediation of Natural Knowledge in the Dutch East Indies
10:15 - 10:45
Malay-language recipes compiled in modern manuscripts, now catalogued as kitab tibb, kitab obat-obatan, and kitab mujarrabat, have become an essential part of Malay manuscript collections particularly in the Indonesian archipelago and in western Europe. These latent compilations of humoral, Prophetic, and indigenous medicine not only include recipes using plants from the eastern archipelago but also detailed instructions for creating amulets to be used for war as much as for love. This paper explores different possibilities for understanding how recipes pertaining to women, children, and to the household were historically transmitted and eventually compiled or copied by male scribes in local court or Islamic settings in island Southeast Asia. I argue that one way of contextualizing the historical formation of these manuscripts is by tracing their fragments in early modern Malay, Arabic, and Dutch texts about medicine, religion, and natural history, and to do so with an eye toward the workings of gender and class in processes of mediation and in mediated information. In bridging the gap between histories of manuscript transmission and of cross-cultural interaction in the Dutch East Indies, this paper attempts to recalibrate the cultural scales of secrecy and exclusivity as applied to medicinal and religious knowledge in the archipelago.
A Mantra for Elephants: Religion and Animal Modernity in Early Modern Malaya
10:45 - 11:15
This article examines the text and context of elephant mantras used in shamanic modes of healing in early modern Malaya to elucidate an historical ethnography of the relationship between humans and elephants. It offers a methodological intervention in terms of how such sources can be read as well as a historiographical argument that complicates notions of animal modernity more broadly. How does reading the human-elephant relationship through the lens of religion open up new spaces for seeing and sensing not just the Malaya’s environmental past but also the ecological power of conversation with the spirit world? Two key points are highlighted. First, continuous anxieties over the potential power of the elephant were reflected in a pathological characterization of untamed elephants. The quasi-colonial relationship over captive animals that resulted from these anxieties disrupts the prevailing view that British imperialism in Malaya marked the beginning of modernity. Second, cross-cultural contact evidenced by linguistic sedimentation of these mantras - mixing the Malay and Siamese languages - brings to view the role of religious conversion in domesticating these anxieties through a performance of anthropocentric power.
Decolonizing Medicine and Science in North Africa
11:15 - 11:45
Since the nineteenth century, medicine and science have been perceived as a monolithic tool for domination, inextricably linked to Europe’s imperial expansion into the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. To that end, nineteenth-and twentieth-century colonialism resulted in medical and scientific materials from North Africa residing in European archives, institutes and museums, thus hardening racial boundaries and imbricating coercive medical and scientific archives. This paper examines how non-elite North Africans functioned as mediators, co-producers, and resistors of these colonial dynamics in medicine and science. At the same time, it will consider how Arab/Islamic and traditional knowledge were integrated into global epistemologies of medicine and science. Emerging from a point of decolonial and anti-colonial methodology, this paper will narrate the medical/scientific lives from Egypt and Tunisia that currently reside in European institutes as well as those that previously resided at the Institute of Egypt. The paper will articulate the conditions of possibility for how these artifacts, knowledge systems, and people undergo a series of cross-cultural exchanges undergo colonial and postcolonial contexts. More specifically, it will investigate the funding, production and circulation of science, highlight the dynamism of “traditional” science, and the syncretism of knowledge traditions.

University of Cambridge
Institut historique allemand Paris
Princeton University
Postdoctoral Researcher, Leiden University
Max Planck Institute for History of Science
Max Plank Institute for the History of Science, Berlin
University of Wisconsin-Madison


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