Drift 25, Rm. 301 25 Jul 2019 Organized Session
Thematic Approaches to the Study of Science 09:00 - 11:45

Prevailing views cast the Pacific as a desolate, sparsely populated expanse between continents and a blank slate for the assertion of Western epistemological and territorial claims. Burgeoning East Asian scholarship, migration studies and indigenous critical works adumbrate a radically opposed view: of a knotted plurality of translocal and transcultural circuits of knowledge, colonization and competition linking peoples and environments across the Pacific and beyond. Imperial science historiography, meanwhile, has undergone a parallel shift from an application of monolithic national and cultural analytical frameworks toward an emphasis on the contingent translation of knowledges in circulation between peoples and localities. Our panel develops these themes with five case studies exemplifying diverse roles played by science in reifying and resisting situations of dominance in Pacific contexts: transglobal parasite research in the service of Hawaiian agriculture, influenza epidemiology as a catalyst for Hong Kong anticommunism, Fijian reef geology as an emblem of Northern Irish imperial identity, ethnoecology versus American imperial and Southeast Asian nationalist conceptions of indigenous knowledge, and marine biology as a site for the assertion of Nationalist Chinese policy vis à vis Japan. Collectively, we extend the reach of Pacific cultural and informational networks from East and Southeast Asia, through the South Pacific and continental United States, to contexts as far afield as Britain, Ireland and West Africa. We also conceptualize Pacific nations and empires as contested, imagined entities, subject to local political and environmental pressures, and implicated in far-flung trans-oceanic and transglobal concerns.

Organized by Geoff Bil

The Collected Letters of Sarah Maria Smythe: Communicating Darwin’s Coral Growth Theory to Belfast Readers, Ten Months in the Fiji Islands (1864)
09:00 - 09:30
In Ten Months in the Fiji Islands (1864) Sarah Maria Smythe narrated her military husband’s recent evaluation of the strategic and economic feasibility of British plans to annex the Fiji archipelago. Her published letters described her own contributions to concurrent Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew-sponsored explorations of the islands’ floral resources. Her drawings of coral reefs, however, document her application of the science of geology, and Charles Darwin’s theory of reef growth, to explain configurations of Fijian marine regions. Sarah Maria Smythe’s correspondence in Ten Months in the Fiji Islands (1864) has been briefly studied under the genre of Victorian women’s Pacific-region travel narratives (Claudia Knapman 1997). Keeping with the HSS conference theme “Telling the Story of Science,” I situate Smythe’s illustrations of reef architecture, rendered as chromolithographs by the celebrated Vincent Brooks, within the public education on the science of geology during a robust schedule of public lectures in Belfast. I argue that Smythe, member of a prominent household in Protestant Northern Ireland, engaged with theoretical geology during Belfast’s self-identification as active participant in networks of British colonial-region resource management. More broadly, the Belfast education series framed Darwin’s coral research to general audiences in the context of environmental change, themes subsequently conveyed to the public as Origin of Species (1859) circulated in Ireland through lending libraries and in printed reviews. Smythe’s volume demonstrates the nineteenth-century public embrace of contemporary geological theory and field research as one element in a Victorian-era scientific toolkit used to evaluate resources in changing imperial environments.
Insects and Empire: Entomological Expeditions and Biological Pest Control in Early Twentieth-Century Hawai'i
09:30 - 10:00
Invasive insect species became a constant preoccupation of agricultural officials in the U.S.-governed Territory of Hawaii during the early twentieth century. Biological control constituted the primary means of pest control at the time, and the territory’s Board of Commissioners of Agriculture and Forestry regularly deployed entomologists to distant parts of the world in order to collect and introduce insect parasites that could keep populations on unwanted insects in check. This paper examines two such expeditions—Filipo Silvestri’s 1912-13 search for parasites in west Africa to combat the Mediterranean fruit fly, and David T. Fullaway’s effort to find melon fly parasites in south and southeast Asia in 1914-15—in order to understand the inter-imperial networks that undergirded tropical agriculture as a disciplinary formation of empire. The history of entomological expeditions and biological pest control in Hawai‘i speaks to the trans-Pacific and global ecological relationships that conditioned imperial agriculture and governance during the era of high imperialism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Nationalizing Science in Republican China: The Birth of China’s Policy on Foreign Biological Expeditions
10:15 - 10:45
My study addresses the birth of Republican China’s policy on transnational biological expeditions, which, I argue, was enacted in response to a Japanese biological expedition along the Yangzi River in 1929. Through the engagement, Academia Sinica (Zhongyang yanjiuyuan), China’s national academy of sciences, intended to regulate international researchers’ unlimited access to China’s natural resources, which had been facilitated by extraterritoriality and the loss of China’s tariff autonomy since the 1840s. With its enforcement, the policy essentially established scientific research as a national enterprise and biological resources as China’s national property. Focused on Academia Sinica’s policy on foreign biological expeditions in the 1930s, my presentation examines the driving forces behind the institute’s nationalizing efforts: (1) the political instability in a transitional era that allowed for the possibility of institutional reforms and new policy-making; (2) the newfound Nationalist regime’s commitment to solidify the nation’s borders against colonial activities; (3) the transnational nature of the Japanese marine biological study and its potential involvement in the Sino-Japanese fishing wars on the East China Sea; (4) the formation of international academic communities such as biological associations and the global network for specimens exchange; and (5) the presence of a group of Chinese intellectual bureaucrats who dedicated their political power to modernizing China with science. My presentation will conclude with a reflection on the policy’s unintended consequences on China's scientific community, when science became a collectivist interest of the state.
Cultivating Resistance: Ethnoecology, Anticolonialism, and Indigenous Territoriality in Twentieth-Century Southeast Asia
10:45 - 11:15
Over the course of the twentieth century, highland Southeast Asian indigenous societies grappled with the incursions of diverse Western imperial interests and, later, with the more imminent colonization endeavours of newly independent, development-oriened nation states. Disparaging ethnographic assessments of indigenous agriculture and subsistence practices frequently served as justifications for these undertakings. As the century wore on, Western anthropologists adopted more appreciative views of indigenous agrarian lifeways - a shift usually explained as a result of anthropology’s gradual movement away from tiered classificatory approaches toward a Boasian emphasis on the functional sophistication of indigenous cultures in relation to their environments and histories. Focusing principally on the work of Harley Harris Bartlett (1886-1960), a University of Michigan botanist, plant ecologist and ethnographer who analyzed indigenous ethnoecology in interwar Sumatra, and Harold Conklin (1926-2016), a Yale-based ethnobotanist and ethnoecologist of the post-World War II Philippines, this paper instead explores the role played by Batak, Hanunóo and Ifugao strategic priorities in helping to revise this anthropological perspective. I also examine how Conklin’s self-consciously anticolonial stance on Philippine indigenous swidden and terrace agriculture was shaped by Native American-led activism. In addition to situating Southeast Asian indigenous territorial colonization at the temporal juncture of imperial and national projects of dispossession, then, this paper also analyzes American ethnoscientific reassessments as the partial cumulation of indigenous anticolonial efforts that were trans-Pacific in their reach and influence.
Cold War Prevention: The Discourse of Hong Kong Flu and Its Controversies, 1968-1972
11:15 - 11:45
1968 is often hailed as the year that “rocked the world.” However, this historical moment is barely evaluated from the realm of medicine. “Hong Kong Flu” pandemic, one of the three worldwide flu pandemics breakout in the last century, was caused by the virus H3N2 and had infected 15 percent of the whole population in 1968. Although its death rate was relatively low, it promoted a medical competition and negotiation between different institutions, from Hong Kong, Japan to the United States. Its breakout also changed the mentality of the world towards unexpected severe diseases. With a study of this case, this paper aims to answer three questions in medical history: 1. How to define “colonial” medicine in a homogenous decolonized era? 2. What could this Asian experience contribute to cold war medicine? 3. When and how did international health transform to global health? Based mainly on articles from English and Chinese newspapers and government reports, this paper argues that a new mode of public health governance and the adoption of preventive medicine had emerged from a new civic discourse in 1968. The paper also seeks to outline an underlying ideological campaign, just after the riots in 1967, which relied on the metaphor of disease to segregate the communist community from its capitalist counterpart. As the flu epidemic spread around the world, the structure of the Cold War was stabilized. And finally, this paper will demonstrate a rise in local consciousness as Hong Kong became a frontier in the Cold War.

Drew University
University of British Columbia
University of Wisconsin-Madison
New York Botanical Garden
City University of Hong Kong
University of Sydney
University of Sydney


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