Orientalism

Notes

Foundation of post-colonial studies; methodology is post-structuralist.

Discussion Questions:

Let’s start where we left off last week — would you say that what Said has written is a cultural history?

What sorts of sources does he use to get at the culture of Orientalism, and how does he link the culture to the psychological, ideological, and tangible effects he’s arguing it resulted in?

Science (geographical surveys, linguistic treatises), politics (Napoleon’s correspondence), popular culture (literature [travel, novels], art [paintings],

There’s one aspect of this book that I find particularly important for historians of science to pay attention to, and it’s something Aparna asked us to look out for this week. Said raises a very pertinent question about how we should be writing history; in this case, he’s talking in particular about histories of “the Other.”

Have you seen the kind of discourse Said describes in the primary or secondary sources you consult when your actors or authors are writing about “the Other?”

How can one study other cultures and people from a libertarian, or a nonrepressive and nonmanipulative, perspective? (24)

“Academic mindfulness”

Interdisciplinarianism

How would you answer this question in the context of the history of science, or even more importantly, within the context of your own research?

It seems incredibly important who is assigned the role of “actor” and who is viewed in terms of their “reactions.” Who is changing and who is changed.

Another issue, and one that we’ve discussed at length in other courses but something I think Said deals with well, is the pitfalls of specialized disciplinarity. As historians, in our training, we are expected to read all the “great works” our forebears have composed in order to understand the acceptable methodologies and limits of our field. In a way, this distances us from the reality of the history we’re trying to comment upon, like it did for many intellectuals within the Orientalist community. Instead of looking at the Orient as it was, letting it speak for itself, these actors read what other men in their discipline had written about the Orient and took this as truth. (67)

As historians, should we be trained with such an emphasis on secondary source material? We’re joining a conversation, but we also are responsible for representing people of the past. How can we do so with so very little of their voices being heard? Where is the line between being a part of an intellectual community and making sure the subject of study for which the community has been founded is the centerpiece of the conversation?

What is science’s role in the construction of cultural domination of the West over the East? In the formation of the “Orient”?

What is the relationship between knowledge and power in Said’s narrative?

Does knowledge have to be based in reality for it to be powerful?

Is essentialist knowledge, taking something specific and applying it in a general manner, especially prone to produce problems of difference and inequality?

Criticism:

Why not focus on more European-dominated colonial examples, like the British in India or the Russians in Asia?

DON’T LEAVE OUT THE GERMANS

This is anti-western

Made “Orientalism” into a bad word, condemning all those who would have proudly identified as such before the book was written.

“Said had constructed a binary-opposite representation, a fictional European stereotype that would counter-weigh the Oriental stereotype. Being European is the only common trait among such a temporally and stylistically disparate group of literary Orientalists.” Ibn Warraq, O.P. Kejariwal

Notes from Class:

Reproducing Empire, Laura Briggs

Early 20th century history of eugenics in Puerto Rico

Decolonizing Methodologies

The scholarship that we read is so heavily inundated with empire we don’t even see it.

You need to read Marx to understand this stuff (especially the violence aspects).

Oklahoma as a postcolonial space

Learning how to inhabit the space of the people we study

Any action in a colonized space is viewed as a reaction to the colonizers (by the colonized and the colonizers).

It’s not taking away colonial agency, it’s taking away their individuality.

Colonized cannot go back.

Culture must change to accommodate colonizers. It must change again to unify against colonizers. And it changes again after the colonizers are gone.

Disease as Framework

Papers

Medical historians, medical anthropologists, and other scholars concerned with a plethora of topics have written works centered around specific diseases; what comprises their arguments, evidence, and conclusions, however, varies greatly and begs the question, what exactly is the history of a disease, and how have scholars employed disease as a schema through which they analyze other topics? This essay will attempt to provide specific examples of historians (and anthropologists and literary scholars) using illness as a framework, and it will elucidate the benefits, drawbacks, and consequences of such work.

Few medical historians would argue with the statement that a disease is a constructed entity. The biology of an illness constitutes only a part of its meaning to the society from which it emerged. Oftentimes, there are non-biological factors — “beliefs, economic relationships, societal institutions,”[1] to name a few — that also make up the concept that is a particular disease. Syphilis is a good case in point. The biology of the disease is fairly standard; it is a bacterial infection that, if left untreated, can become quite serious. Because of the way that it is transmitted, however, syphilis has garnered a scandalous reputation and has been associated with sin since its appearance in Europe in the late 1400s. The way the disease was handled institutionally (syphilitics were often banned from hospitals or placed in homes amongst one another) and the way that sufferers experienced it (often shunned from society, and when treated at all, given needlessly harsh “remedies”), shows that it was, at least in the eyes of the religious societies it ravaged, much more than what its biological attributes would suggest.[2]

Nuclear Energy

Summaries & Reviews

Being Nuclear: Africans and the Global Uranium Trade, Gabrielle Hecht

            Gabrielle Hecht’s unconventional approach to a history of the global uranium trade — centered around a traditionally forgotten player, Africa — offers new insight into the effects of the post-World War II technopolitical atmosphere. Hecht introduces the term “nuclearity” to describe the degree of association of various places and things with “nuclear exceptionalism,” a category that placed entities in a position in which they would be regulated according to their perceived risks as nuclear things. The nuclearity of different places and things was renegotiated in various places and times, Hecht argues, often due to changing political and technological climates. The author traces the development of the nuclear market, an action made possible by politically motivated nations’ reclassifying uranium as a marketable commodity not associated with its nuclear qualities in Part I, and goes on in Part II to examine the struggle to assign nuclearity again to African uranium mines in order to ascertain the presence and severity of health issues associated with radon exposure. Notable in her narrative is Hecht’s inclusion of the underpriviledged workers and communities that the fluctuating definition of nuclearity often subjugated to the economic and political interests of those in power.[1]

I was fascinated by Hecht’s work in Part II on nuclearity’s effect on organizations’ and governments’ handling of the occupational health issues of uranium miners. In her narrative, retold through many examples throughout the book, workers and organizations concerned with workers’ health had a very difficult time making the medical consequences of radon exposure visible. One reason for this, Hecht argues, is that the infrastructure required to create knowledge about uranium’s health effects was not present. An association between the work performed by the miners and the (often long-term and delayed) illnesses from which they suffered proved difficult to ascertain with certainty — especially when the economic consequences of such an association were of such importance. I wonder why knowledge created elsewhere — in studies conducted on uranium mines in the United States or France, for instance — was not transferrable. Why should the same study need to be conducted in every individual uranium mine? Could nuclearity, either through its political or economic interpretations, have had an effect on how mobile knowledge about radon exposure was? Technopolitical and economic motivations, it seems, have direct implications for knowledge mobility.

Osiris — Global Power Knowledge: Science and Technology in International Affairs

Osiris’s special issue on “Global Power Knowledge” offers a broader perspective of one of the key issues that underlies Being Nuclear — that of science and technology’s changing relationship with politics after World War II and its importance in understanding international affairs in the Cold War and modern era. Articles, roughly divided into temporal sections, deal with multiple themes. One such topic is the technopolitical race for sovereignty and supremacy; decolonization ushered in a new era where international power hierarchies were based upon scientific and technological adeptness, and nuclear technologies played only a part in this discourse. Another important line of inquiry is the effect state patronage (and thus, at varied extents, state motivations) has had on the kinds of knowledge produced, its mobility between nationalized centers of production, and the institutions and frameworks that sponsored it. The last theme, globalization, underlies articles that discuss the relationship between science and technology’s increasingly important role in politics in the modern era. The rise in significance of NGO’s and their influence on scientific work, collaboration, and funding has changed the technopolitical atmosphere in which researchers conduct studies. While far from exhaustive, this summary offers the main ideas that run through the many more specific articles that make up the collection.

I was taken aback by something after reading Being Nuclear and browsing through Osiris’s “Global Power and Knowledge” special addition: the degree of integration of technology into politics and the many effects this has had. If I had a nickel for every time the term “technopolitical” came up in the readings this week, I would be a very rich woman, and for good reason — it seems that the twentieth century witnessed an unprecedented increase in the integration of scientists, engineers, and their technologies into the political realm. The rise and attempted control of nuclear power sources exemplifies this transition. Hecht’s work discusses how the political implications of nuclear power resonated in many different spheres, and one example she articulates in particular resonated with me. The value of uranium to African countries attempting to solidify their sovereignty was paramount due to the (however well-hidden in the development of the “banal” uranium market) political implications of a nuclear research program in the international community. This had direct ramifications for those working in African uranium mines; the radon particles poisoning workers’ lungs was, although known to some extent, underplayed and understudied. Politics, in this instance, dictated not only what would and would not be scientifically studied in regards to the development of an atomic industry; it harmed an entire group of underprivileged people in a very real way. Technology and politics, I think, are two entities that should be very carefully monitored if allowed to join their power and motivations at all.

This led me into further reflection about something we have discussed many times in class — the line between history and social and political commentary. While I still find “purer” histories more to my intellectual taste, the value of histories that address modern-day implications is difficult to contest. In the case of Being Nuclear, there are still workers subjected to dangerous levels of radiation in uranium mines; how could a researcher not include this in her study? And how could a reader, whether or not the language used by the researcher implies it or not, not feel moved to action by such facts? Perhaps what I am getting at here is that a book does not need to be written politically to have political implications for its readers. If there truly is an injustice at hand, honest research and fact presentation should produce a result in reader activism just as readily as a polemic-ridden commentary on a perceived transgression would.

[1] Sorry for the nineteenth century paragraph, but this book was long, the arguments many, and the subject matter complicated.

Routes of Power

Summaries & Reviews

Routes of Power: Energy and Modern America, Christopher F. Jones

            In his study of shifting power regimes in industrializing America, Christopher Jones emphasizes the importance of transportation networks in the formation of an “energy-intensive world.” Jones covers the time period from 1820, when citizens garnered their energy in an organic way (using primarily plants, falling water, and wind, all derivatives of solar energy), through to 1930, when the transition to a mineral-based energy was completed (coal, oil, and electricity covering most of Americans’ energy needs). The effects of such a transition are highlighted and include the proliferation of larger cities with concentrated industrial output, energy’s correlation with cost instead of labor, and communities’ differing degrees of inauguration into the new energy regime with various consequences. In each chapter, the author emphasizes transportation networks — canals, railroads, pipelines, and wires — and their role in creating “landscapes of intensification” that created the demand that would sustain the transformation from an organic to a mineral energy regime.

Both Christopher Jones and David Nye in America as Second Creation discussed the role of the booster in garnering support for the usage of new technologies; these men obviously played a major role in encouraging the usage and the overall proliferation of novel technological feats. I find their presence often in works dealing with medical speculation as well, such as James Harvey Young’s Toadstool Millionaires, which discusses the rise of patent medicines in nineteenth century America. I wonder if there have been any studies of these men; what motivated them, and were they a uniquely nineteenth century phenomenon? They probably maintained a relatively precarious existence, because new technologies harbored grave risks for investors (and those touting their benefits) if a society did not see their value. What about the nineteenth century made these men so visible, and how did they influence the course of American industrialization? Was their participation needed, even inevitable?

I also found it fascinating how influential seemingly unrelated historico-political factors were in the inauguration of certain technologies into common usage. Susan B. Pritchard’s Confluence analyzes how the techno-manipulation of the Rhône was discussed in a nationalistic, conquering language, and how its goals reflected France’s attempts to legitimize itself after a humiliating defeat at the hands of its rivals. Similarly, the way that canals were built in America was influenced by the way that Americans saw themselves at the time; large-scale federal governmental involvement was discouraged at a time when republicanism dominated. Investors, then, and state charters decided the course and language of construction. Technology, both authors’ books discuss, is affected by social and political factors, just as it has effects on both.

Something I found particularly interesting was the way that mass commodification and physical distance between sites of energy production and sites of energy consumption has affected people’s relationship with energy. No longer something that must be earned through hard labor, energy can be purchased; this has changed the way that people use energy. This distance between production and consumption, I think, was a product of industrialization and mass production and can be seen in many other aspects of society. Medical knowledge, for example, has been standardized and delegated to a certain class of people, and most patients do not care to look into the technicalities of their diseases. They leave their lives completely in a doctor’s hands. The distance between the producer of medical knowledge, the doctor, and the consumer, the patient, has increased as the language of disease has become more technical and the technologies of diagnostics more specialized. Before medicine had been commodified and, more importantly, standardized, people played a much more active role in their health decisions. The commodification and standardization of energy consumption has had similar effects; people delegate their energy needs to others to the extent that they know almost nothing about its production. Commodification and standardization, then, create distance between producers and consumers. I wonder what sorts of ramifications this has, and especially what sorts of exploitation has resulted from it.

Vernacular Knowledge

Summaries & Reviews

The Crafting of the 10,000 Things: Knowledge and Technology in Seventeenth-Century China, Dagmar Schäfer

            In her analyses of the writings of Song Yingxing (1587-1666?), author Dagmar Schäfer elucidates the intricate and complex systems of knowing in seventeenth-century China. Song was part of a society in which individuals were divided into four major classes: scholars, farmers, merchants, and craftsmen. While Song’s writings reflect these subdivisions (and the social hierarchies in which they were placed), they also defy his society’s unique knowledge classification systems by emphasizing the role of qi in universal harmony and understanding. In a method markedly different from his contemporaries, Song proposed a chaos-defying system based on qi and “natural phenomenon and the production of material objects,” instead of on “moral categories of ‘heaven’” imposed on humanity.[1] Schäfer brilliantly highlights how cultural, political, and societal influences play a role in knowledge production and understanding through her case study analysis of a single, at times abnormal and at times quite typical, lower-ranked Chinese scholar. 

Science in the Everyday World: Why Perspectives from the History of Science Matter, Katherine Pandora and Karen A. Rader

            Science in the Everyday World brings attention to the tendency for scientists and historians of science to discount or altogether ignore the importance of those “outside the temple of science” and in the realm of popular culture in the production and perpetuation of knowledge.[2] To assume that all knowledge is synthesized in the laboratories of professional scientists leaves out the many, equally important actors at play in the lay world. If historians will venture into the realm of popular cultures of science, Pandora and Rader argue, we have to gain “the positive transformation of relations between expert scientific practitioners and nonexpert public science participants.”[3] The authors then illustrate how this type of analysis should be carried out by discussing three examples: historians’ work on the nineteenth-century scientific popular culture, the development of and motivations behind scientific museums, and twentieth century media portrayals of the scientist. By understanding the ways that the scientific community and laypeople communicate with one another, scientists can benefit from historians in a way that will make future conversations far more rewarding.

Pandora and Rader’s piece on popular science reminded me very much of Nancy Tomes’s work, The Gospel of Germs. Tomes appears to use the exact analytical strategies proposed by Pandora and Rader; she attempts to understand the lay American reaction to an awareness of microbial disease-carriers. A marked difference between this approach and the more traditional, top-centered strategy can be located in the source base. Pandora and Rader’s brief discussion on popular representations of scientists in the twentieth century focus on film and television shows, while Tomes uses similar sources that lay outside of the professional realm, including advice books, patent applications, advertisements, and oral histories. While these sources may not always be the most visible, apparent, or traditional, they offer insight into a completely different aspect of scientific culture — one that is equally important to the acquisition and transmission of knowledge.

I find the indirect approach to the historical study of scientific understanding the most fascinating, and arguably the most important. While scientists like to isolate themselves physically and professionally, they are still part of the worldly, human-comprised community. They are not immune to its structure, politics, culture, or ideas, as many proponents of the SSK school would argue. I think, however, that one of the most effective ways of understanding the context in which science is conducted is to study the consumers of science. Their role in the creation of scientific knowledge has been paramount; after all, without public support science (usually) cannot operate. And how science sells or isolates itself from the common people can have major implications for what kind of science is done. Equally interesting and useful is the study of how science has affected the communities for which it operates; how did your average American understand germ theory, and how did this change how they behaved? A question taken up by Tomes, this kind of inquiry can lead the historian to better understand what role science has played in the overall history of humanity, and like Pandora and Rader argue, it can facilitate important modern-day conversations between scientists and common audiences.

[1] Dagmar Schäfer, The Crafting of 10,000 Things, 52.

[2] Katherine Pandora and Karen A. Rader, “Science in the Everyday World,” 350.

[3] Ibid, 354.

Visualization

Summaries & Reviews

Visible Empire: Botanical Expeditions & Visual Culture in the Hispanic Enlightenment, Daniela Bleichmar

            Author Daniela Bleichmar bases her study of Hispanic botanical expeditions around the images created during them in order to analyze the place of illustration in the Enlightenment natural philosophical era. Through these images, Bleichmar elucidates the motivations behind their production (to exploit natural colonial resources and make colonial flora “mobile”), their place in and exemplification of the international botanical network, and what they said (and did not say) about the places from whence they came. Bleichmar also takes the opportunity the images provide to discuss and analyze Hispanic colonial changes in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries and the economic motivations for botanizing expeditions. Underlying her entire analysis is an insistence and explanation of the importance of visual epistemologies in Enlightenment science, especially in the Spanish Empire. 

The Image of Objectivity, Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison

            In a survey of atlases of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries, authors Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison trace changing ideas in the scientific community about visual representations of natural phenomena. The predominate methods of representation in the nineteenth-century concerned themselves with being “true to nature.” Experts who put together the atlases were supposed to, with their professional knowledge of a subject, use their judgment to create images that would be representative of natural things. A different view, a mechanical objectivity, began developing mid-century and stressed instead the importance of ridding scientific representations of their human components, or subjectivity. Judgment on the part of even professional scientists was viewed as immoral; professional scientists were expected to refrain from inserting themselves into their objective representations of natural phenomena. This mentality propelled imaging machines to the forefront of representational technology, especially the camera, and encouraged publication in atlases of multiple images of the same thing, so that the burden of representation was transferred to the audience.

The role of visual epistemologies was also addressed in Daniel Margoscy’s Commercial Visions. The standards for anatomical representations — the way that different anatomists vied for various methods of representation as superior — stands in stark contrast to the homogeneity in opinion about the hierarchy of botanical representations. At least as Bleichmar presents it, most naturalists were in agreement that visual representations were better than textual or physical renditions of plants. That being said, the goal of a representative, ideally easily reproducible representation was common to both anatomists and botanists. The goal of classification, such a powerful component of Enlightenment natural philosophy, deemed the standardization of nature necessary.

The role of the artist was addressed in both Visible Empire and The Image of Objectivity, and both works depicted the relationship between artist and scientist as a contentious one in some respects. The implied subjectivity of the artist was a source of tension, as was their propensity for creative license. Scientists felt the need to very literally look over their shoulders as they attempted to conform to the scientists’ particular definition of “objective.” What Galison and Daston and Bleichmar stress, however, is that standards of objectivity were quite subjective themselves. The leaving out of parts of plants, for example, was common practice in colonial Spanish scientific representations of colonial flora. These representations were also selective in that they portrayed only the plant, even simply parts of the plant, and left out their surroundings completely. Additionally, as Daston and Galison highlight, standards for objectivity in representation have changed over time, indicating further their transitory nature. It seems that the very subjectivity scientists were attempting to eliminate from their representations was present nonetheless, inherent in the selectivity scientists imposed upon the subjective artists they employed.

Dying in the City of Blues

Summaries & Reviews

Dying in the City of Blues: Sickle Cell Anemia and the Politics of Race and Health, Keith Wailoo

Through the lens of a controversial disease, sickle cell anemia, author Keith Wailoo traces important developments in mid-twentieth century American health, in race relations, and in state and federal politics. He shows how diseases can take on varied meanings in different political, cultural, and medical environments, and he analyzes how these meanings affect the people closest to the disease — the sufferers and their families. Especially prominently featured are the ways in which the disease influenced (and was influenced by) the turbulent racial politics of Memphis, Tennessee from 1940s through the 1990s — from a disease under the radar, overshadowed by malaria, to an embodiment of African American suffering and disadvantage, to a condition that evoked suspicion and anger, sickle cell anemia, like those it afflicted, was directly affected by the cultural and political environment in which it was situated.

Wailoo’s method — using a disease to elucidate the politics of a time period, and showing how diseases are active political players — is almost identical to that of Leslie J. Reagans’ in Dangerous Pregnancies. Both authors spend a lot of time discussing the political and cultural context in which their diseases arise, and they go on to explain how their chosen diseases stimulate conversations that end in major alterations in cultural values and, more concretely, in changes in medical law. Wailoo briefly discusses the commodification of the disease, which he defines as; “the process by which bodily experiences such as pain are assigned value (monetary and otherwise) by physicians, patients, insurance companies, and others.”[1] This method of analysis is reminiscent of Warwick Anderson’s in Collectors of Lost Souls, where brains are commodified in the international scientific community studying Kuru. Wailoo’s focus is more on domestic commodification in the form of sick bodies as “clinical material” for learning medical students, but both authors address the propensity for scientists to objectify the sick body and use it to their financial or reputational ends. Both studies focus on the twentieth century; I wonder if body commodification is a relatively new phenomenon, perhaps linked to the rise of the clinic in early nineteenth century Paris, or if it existed in different capacities much earlier (as objects of anatomical specimens, for example).

The conclusion, like that of Dangerous Pregnancies, offered up “lessons” that could be learned from the history of sickle cell anemia. I have noticed that some historical works’ final chapter (the conclusion, coda, etc.) often contain similar content. The historian takes what he or she has gathered from their study and applies it to more modern-day problems; sickle cell anemia, for instance, has taught us (hopefully) that eradication is not a simple process, and that when diseases take on cultural meaning, institutional methods of treatment/cure are not always viewed as beneficial by those afflicted by the illness. In the future, therefore, we should be careful when dealing with culturally-affected disease. I think this is a valuable lesson, but it led me to reflect on what exactly a historian’s job is. Is it within our realm of practice to take the arguments we make and extend them to encompass contemporary issues? Should it not be left up to our readers to decide how to apply our insights to their lives? I think this tendency to proselytize based on what an author felt he or she learned by conducting the research tends to bring in contemporary biases, and I feel including it takes away from a book’s merit.

[1] 18

Technology and Gender

Summaries & Reviews

Technology and Gender: Fabrics of Power in Late Imperial China, Francesca Bray

            Making use of a broad definition of technology — “an action performed on some form of inanimate or animate matter, designed to produce an object with human meaning … [as] exercised in its social context”[1] — author Francesca Bay analyzes the ways in which Chinese “gynotechnics” created the world in which women lived and also influenced the way they interacted with and within it in late Imperial China. Bray does this in three domains: in the creation of hierarchical, gendered, and ritualistic spaces within the practices of homebuilding, in the transition in textile, particularly silk, production from the female to the male sphere and its affect on gender roles, and in the technologies of women’s health and their part in creating and reinforcing class and gender distinctions. With the intention of conducting an investigation into technology’s role in social reproduction, the author outlines how these three “technologies” created and perpetuated the social and cultural frameworks in which Chinese women operated.

Bray’s approach to talking about spaces — the way that they were built for certain purposes, and what those purposes can tell us about the society that found them important — is reminiscent of other constructivist approaches to historical spaces. The quarters in which the Royal Society worked and socialized in, as described by Schaefer and Shapin, served to promote an orderliness based off of gentlemanly etiquette; the homes constructed in Imperial China similarly functioned as a way to promote social order in the form of strict hierarchies founded on ancestral respect and the home as a governmental microcosm. The rooms of the Royal Society were often seated with very little attention paid to rank — everyone was encouraged, even required, to participate in the scientific discussion. Homes in China were centered around their ancestors’ shrine, the way that Chinese lives were meant to revolve around the expectations their ancestors, and through extension society as a whole, expected. Heights of roofs were dictated by social rank. The Royal Society’s strategy of spatial arrangement exemplified their attempt (within the strict boundaries of class) to promote observed, and therefore legitimate, scientific knowledge. The structure of the Chinese home promoted the generation of a different kind of product — one highly gendered, hierarchical, and controlled.

 

“Categories of Difference, Categories of Power: Bringing Gender and Race to the History of Technology,” Nina E. Lerman

            Nina Lerman questions the prevailing definition of a “technology” in SHOT literature, arguing that it is exclusive and teleological. She highlights the scholarly focus on technologies as “markers of progress,”[2] judged in their relation to modern science, instead of the broader definition of a technology as “ways of making and doing things.”[3] By focusing on technologies that historians have viewed as particularly productive or progressive in light of modern science, the SHOT industry has sidelined many important technological developments and missed many contemporary cultural emphases on certain kinds technologies — and what these emphases say about gender and racial relations. Lerman presents an example in analyzing the records of an organization in Philadelphia devoted to providing technical training to problematic youths. White males were given tasks more in line with valuable technical knowledge (notably different from what a modern organization of the same kind would find most appropriate), while young women and people of color were trained in less valuable and sometimes less technical subjects. By adopting an approach where the modern “keyword” of technology is stripped of its modern exclusivity, Lerman is able to comment on gender and race relations through the unique lens of non-exclusive technology.

I read Technology and Gender before Lerman’s article (primarily) concerning an expanded definition of technology, and that was probably a mistake. I spent a lot of energy trying to wrap my mind around the idea of technology as a social construction and as a means of social reproduction. Lerman enlightened me, describing the way that modern historians have restricted the definition of technology to things that we, in our current time, view as progressive: telescopes and microscopes, computers and phones, etc. Grappling with the broader definition after having read both works, however, still left me slightly dissatisfied; if technology is constructed in contemporary contexts, and it also reinforces and perpetuates the ideas, traditions, or theories that created it, what makes it so important? It comes from a culture and produces things within the frameworks of that culture. What does technology do in the grand scheme of things? It certainly, by the definition Bray offers, cannot contribute to change; does this definition of technology, then, have a place in any study not focused on stability (like Technology and Gender)? I think not.

[1] Francesca Bray, Technology and Gender: Fabrics of Power in Late Imperial China, 15-16.

[2] Nina E. Lerman, “Categories of Difference, Categories of Power: Bringing Gender and Race to the History of Technology,” 895.

[3] Ibid.

Commercial Visions

Summaries & Reviews

Commercial Visions: Science, Trade, and Visual Culture in the Dutch Golden Age, Dániel Margócsy

In Commercial Visions, author Dániel Margócsy discusses how the production and dissemination of tools of visualization (specimens, prints, atlases, etc.) aided in, and also were brought about by, the impregnation of the sciences — especially the more visual ones such as natural history and anatomy — with commercial interests, specifically in the early modern Netherlands. The author analyzes the scientific environment in the Netherlands, arguing that the Republic of Letters was far more complex and economically motivated than previously suggested. The capitalistic trading atmosphere engendered competition between scientists attempting to create knowledge-sharing tools (i.e., anatomical preparations, reference books, and printing technologies), and this manifested itself in often heated debates over “the epistemological status of visual facts.”[1] By treating knowledge as a commodity, the scientists Margócsy discusses secured their financial interests and employed complex advertising and legitimizing strategies that affected the fields in which they worked in a major way.

          Commercial Visions reminded me a lot of Collectors of Lost Souls; bodies were commodified in both as objects of scientific study or knowledge. In the Netherlands during the early modern period and in colonial Papua New Guinea in the twentieth century, scientists were taking the bodies of the dead and turning them into scientific goods. Like Anderson, Margóscy also discusses scientific commodities in terms of their being Latourian “immutable mobiles.” To make their scientific knowledge mobile, the scientists discussed in Commercial Visions went to all sorts of lengths — and the more mobile their knowledge was, the more successful they were, monetarily and professionally. Margóscy argues, however, that these objects were often not “immutable.” Atlases and reference books were taken on and changed by those who “edited” them, and even the names of the scientists who wrote the books were far from unchanging. As the case of Seba’s Thesaurus shows, even after a scientist’s death, his name could be garnering new meaning. Color printing, a technology discussed in chapter 6, was in a constant state of improvement and flux. The products the Dutch scientists discussed in Commercial Visions thus created an interesting variation on Latour’s cosmology, one in which the commodities were very mobile, but certainly not immutable.

Something I found missing from Margóscy’s book was attention to where the bodies that the anatomists used for preparations came from. This is not only something I am curious about; I think it would have elucidated something quite important about what these men considered representative of the human body. If most of these bodies were those of the patients these doctors and apothecaries treated, the specimens they would have been working with would have been diseased. Unless killed, a dead human body is usually a diseased one, and therefore not a normal one by most standards. In chapter 5, Margóscy discusses Bidloo’s attempted attack on Ruysch’s preparation techniques, and it centers on anatomical specimens’ inability to represent the movements and variability of the human body. What he did not criticize were the actual bodies Ruysch used. What sorts of bodies, then, were representative enough of the population to scientists, and which were not? Would diseased bodies have been considered “normal” enough for students and other buyers to trust their visual example as indicative of what an average human body looked like? I think this would have been a valuable and important issue for Margóscy to have discussed, because it seems to be a relevant and potentially contentious component of anatomical visual epistemologies.

[1] Dániel Margócsy, Commercial Visions, 17.

The Collectors of Lost Souls

Summaries & Reviews

The Collectors of Lost Souls, Warwick Anderson

            Warwick Anderson uses the events surrounding the discovery of and subsequent medico-scientific investigation into kuru to highlight not only the complex frameworks of giving and receiving that were characteristic of mid-20th century science, but those coloring the interactions between the Fore and the medical scientists and anthropologists who descended upon them starting in the 1950s. Scientists and the Fore alike exchanged parts of bodies, expecting something in return, and establishing an identity and place in the social hierarchy of their colleagues and conquerors through these transactions. The diseased Fore body thus became commoditized in the scientific marketplace, a tool used by scientists like D. Carleton Gajdusek to establish themselves as “big men” in science. As the scientific dynamics changed in the 1980s into the “biotechnology industry” characteristic of today’s exchange of scientific information and specimens, where contracts delineate interchanges between scientists, the Fore and some older members of the scientific community like Gajdusek found themselves struggling to establish or reinforce their place in the global socio-scientific structure.

The author’s approach certainly shares Bruno Latour’s emphasis on the history of scientific objects, or non-human entities, as actors in social exchanges, and the importance of scientific networks in the creation and proliferation of certain methods and the kinds of knowledge produced. I think Collectors of Lost Souls also provids a nice example of Thomas Kuhn’s “paradigm shift” in the transition from the slow virus hypotheses to the acceptance of the prion theory. Scientists ascribing to the idea that kuru was a slow virus were quite reluctant to acknowledge Stanley Prusiner’s hypothesis of a protein as the disease-causing agent as a viable alternative. They held fast to their beliefs about how antigens operated; there could be no protein with the capability of self-replication, a requirement for infectious agents. It was not until Prusiner isolated the protein in question, described how the protein replicated (through turning host protein rogue), and proved through enzymatic testing that it was the cause that the scientific community, often reluctantly, admitted the hypothesis as a possibility. This resistance to anomaly elucidation via an alternative theory fits quite well into Kuhn’s structure for “scientific revolutions.” A conversation could be had, however, concerning the lack of mutual exclusivity in regards to the old paradigm and the new; most infectious agents do operate under the more traditional mechanism, and prions are a special case found only in a few diseases.

I came away from the book with a profound feeling of discontent with the scientific process, specifically the way that it tends to foster a tendency to be remarkably skeptical of novel matters of fact that disrupt the implications older matters of fact purportedly suggested. Biologists discovered the incredibly important mechanism of RNA translation from DNA, and the subsequent transcription from RNA of proteins, the “doers” of minute biological processes — this mechanism explained many aspects of cellular biology and genetics that had previously proven quite problematic. These discoveries, however, did not necessitate the assumption that DNA to RNA to protein was the exclusive pathway all organisms took to gene expression (and by extension infection in the case of viruses). Anderson described the scientific community’s reaction to Stanley Prusiner’s suggestion of infectious proteins as “farfetched, if not heretical.”[1] Why do scientists take a matter of fact and extrapolate upon so that it colors further research in a way that the matter of fact itself is silent about? Why can scientists not allow for ambiguity, or the potentiality of their “discoveries” being incomplete, or at the very least not all encompassing?

[1] Warwick Anderson, The Collectors of Lost Souls, 196.