Contributed Papers

Chance Encounters

Presenter 1

A Promising Land: Geographical Knowledge and Qing China's Governance in Xinjiang, 1759-1881

Xue Zhang

Princeton University


The Atatürk counterfactual" has long been a daunting question for historians of China: why had the Han Chinese leaders in the twentieth century chosen not to building a homogeneous nation state like Turkey that emerged from the Ottoman Empire? Instead, they chose to incorporate all non-Han borderlands of the Qing empire into the modern Chinese state. This paper explores the historical root of such an epochal decision through the case of Xinjiang, a predominantly Muslim borderland of the Qing empire. I argue that geographical studies of Xinjiang, which flourished in the mid-nineteenth century, transformed the popular perception of Xinjiang: it was no longer a historical, exotic land where realities and imaginations mingled with each other, but a territory with rich natural resources waiting to be exploited. The most valuable resource was fresh water, which made oasis agriculture possible. The optimism about Xinjiang's revenue potential continues to gain currency in twentieth-century and even twentieth first-century China, compelling modern Chinese leaders to tighten the control over Xinjiang.


Presenter 2

Uncovering Historic 'Whisper' Networks: Women's Friendships in Mid Twentieth Century New Zealand Science

Kate Hannah

University of Auckland


Women's participation in, and contributions to science in the mid-twentieth century can be understood via patterns of geographic location and social networks. These patterns, identified using computational methods which analyse graduation data from the University of New Zealand 1870-1961, enable analysis of the attributes of locations where women clustered. Looking specifically at a cluster of women scientists - Lucy Moore, Lucy Cranwell Smith, Nancy Adams, Greta Stevenson Cone, and Betty Batham - who maintained lifelong friendships over long distances, despite not having studied or worked together, this paper investigates the networks of safety and support these women constructed for themselves within a national scientific community which offered them benign paternalistic sexism through to disregard and discrimination. Drawing on personal papers, letters, and interviews with family members, and using a mixed methods approach to analyse discourse, a historic 'whisper' network is revealed, as women look out for the welfare of other women, and promote each others' work. Exploring the nature of this network: environment, managerial culture, key individuals, social relationships and connectivity, friendship and rivalry - offers opportunities to understand the ways in which women could and did thrive in scientific careers, and mitigates against what Margaret Rossiter named as "camouflage intentionally placed".

Margaret W.Rossiter (1982). Women in Science in America: Before Affirmative Action 1940-1972. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, p. xv.


Presenter 3

Trading between Science and Its "Others": What "Chinese Medicine" Could Do for a Global History of Science

Sean Hsiang-lin Lei

Academia Sinica, Taiwan and Institute of Science, Technology and Society, Yangming University


What could the modern history of "Chinese medicine" do for a global history of science? By analyzing the modern history of Chinese medicine as an "anomalous case," this paper uses this seemingly exceptional history as an exemplar for how to re-think the historical relationship between "Western science" and "non-Western" knowledge traditions, especially the problematic notion of modernity. For this purpose, this paper studies the history of Trading between Science and Its "Others" as a general approach for the history of science.

This approach can draw on the rich historical records that document efforts to create productive exchanges between "science" and "Chinese medicine," which continues even today. The relative abundance of such efforts help to make visible a whole spectrum of ways in which trading between science and Chinese medicine was established, controlled, or-most typically-became strictly prohibited as the latter being constructed as pre-modern "other" with respect to "science" and therefore as unworthy of two-way exchanges. In light of this unusual history, it becomes clear that the absence of trading should not be taken as a state of affairs, but should be investigated as the outcome of historical processes.

To show how actors overcame the control mechanisms to engage in two-way exchanges, this paper focus on an unusually productive case. This case consists of a series of interrelated scientific studies on Chinese medicinal herbs, which involved transnational researchers from colonial Taiwan, Japan, Germany, the United States, and China, and culminated in Tu Youyou's receipt of the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2015. With a dual emphasis on both trading and the control thereof, this approach can help us transcend the framework of modernity-especially its teleological and Eurocentric limitations-so as to better register the diverse historical experiences in non-Western contexts and move towards a global history of science.


Presenter 4

A Glowing Garish Ghost Haunts: The Generative Role of Kitsch as Public Engagement

Michael Édouard Laurentius

York University


Have we ignored the cultural value of kitsch? Is there value to the earnest study of this "polymorphous monster of pseudoart," polluted with sentimentality, which amounts to a predigested aesthetic of distortion and self-indulgence (Călinescu 1987; Kulka 1996)? Kitsch paradoxically haunts our existence; simultaneously asking something from us and demanding our attention, engagement, and thought, yet its garish noise deadens our senses and encourages thoughtless consumption. But are there generative and formative properties locked within kitsch? Yes, borrowing from Benjamin's (1927) "Dream Kitsch" and Olalquiaga's (2002) work, kitsch can furnish one's mind and soul, particularly through the (re-)creation of lost or inaccessible experiences. While this may very well be a desire for ersatz engagement and cheap (human) sensoriality, this paper argues this desire should not simply be dismissed, particularly when it serves as a medium for popular engagement with the technological and social context of science.

Temporally and thematically, this paper will engage with Atomic Age kitsch. During the Atomic Age, encounters with the atom were "necessarily rhetorical, symbolic, and affecting" (Derrida 1984). Kitsch, by its very nature, problematizes and challenges authenticity and authority (Bratu Hansen 2008) and as Atomic Age cultural experiences and interactions were already so heavily mediated (Enli 2015), these emulative properties of kitsch allow for an emancipatory break-for the sharing and construction of new psychosocial spaces and opportunities for palatable, everyday engagement with a humanized technoscientific culture (Masco 2006). Thus, to understand the public's understanding and appetite for atomic science, look to its kitsch too.