Organized Session

Scalar Thinking and Tinkering- Making Science Work across "Civilizations," Empires, and the Globe

Organizers

Lucas Melvin Mueller

University of Geneva

Clare Kim

Washington University in St. Louis

Chair

Lan Li

Rice University

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Session Abstract

As European empires integrated science into governance in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, researchers and states developed new ways of conceptualizing multidimensional interactions across time and space. This panel explores intersections between expertise and tools of scale-making from the colonial to postcolonial period. It cuts across the history of veterinary medicine, nutrition, historiography of science, and environment in order to demonstrate how different communities have mobilized scalar-thinking techniques to represent, erase, identify, and classify scientific knowledge. Together, these papers explore how race, identity, and empire have informed the differentiating technical practices to make knowledge move and work across places, and how these embody particular configurations of politics and expertise that question contemporary historiographical narratives undergirding global science. Kit Heitzman's paper explores the use of surveys in Napoleonic France, their use in surveying veterinary practices across the empire and identifying the paucity of animal healers, emphasizing how tools of equalizing medical practices could resist such flattening. Hilary Buxton examines British administrators' attempts to reconcile cross-cultural knowledge in order to supplant a racialized system of military rations during World War I. Clare Kim investigates the historiographic efforts of historians to describe how science became a universal approach to knowing nature through the use of Greek tragedy as narrative form, one that complemented an interwar vision of scientific internationalism. Lucas Mueller will show how molecules undergirded ideas of global environmental governance in the postcolonial world. Collectively, the papers show how the multidimensional tools of scale-making depended on encounters between scientists and others with wide-ranging claims to expertise, as well as on different modes of governance spanning empire and internationalism.

Presenter 1

The Sum of Its Parts: Surveying the Old Regime's Animal Healers in the Napoleonic Empire, 1812-1814

Kit Heintzman

Harvard University

Abstract

In 1812 the Napoleonic government sent a survey to each of the 130+ French departments, including 40+ formed out of recently annexed European territories. The Minister of the Interior ordered documentation of the qualifications of all persons practicing animal medicine. Comments on the practices of empiriques in the regions were also solicited, explicitly directed at farriers, farmers, folk healers, and veterinarians trained at foreign institutions. The survey had three ends: to inventory the dispersion of veterinary services across the empire, to cleanse the empire of charlatans, and to declare a national standard. The flow of command moved top down: the nation informed the departments, who informed the cantons to conduct the survey; while information was to move ground-up, with departments charged with synthesizing the cantonal information for the national government. At the national tier, the survey proselytized the epistemic authority of the French veterinary education system, but the regional responses reveal important dissonances. While some prefects conformed to the survey's intended script, many others took it as an opportunity to rebuke the survey's foundational assumptions. Newly annexed departments were proud of their 'foreign'-trained students. Some prefects defended uncertified healers and others redirected attention to the paucity of physicians in their regions. I argue that as national administrators attempted to wed standardized science to a uniform vision of the nation, regional administrators used the national survey as a paper tool to represent science and the state as mutually-erosive.

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Presenter 2

Marmite, Atta, and Insoluble Scales: Nutritional Deficiency Disease and Cross-Cultural Knowledge in the First World War

Hilary Buxton

Institute of Historical Research/Kenyon College

Abstract

Provisioning a multicultural and multiracial Army in the First World War was an unprecedented challenge for the British forces. Rations deteriorated as they were shipped to servicemen deployed over vast war fronts. But this logistical problem of distribution also came into conflict with the spatial dimensions of culture and knowledge. British officials attempting to feed the Army differentiated ration categories by race. This paper examines how knowledge produced across different scales of imperial government shaped a new system of "ration scales" - the types and amount of food distributed to each soldier - and, in turn, how these ration scales prompted a heterogeneous mix of subjects to produce new nutritional knowledge that effaced the system's origins in colonial, localized knowledge.
Treating deficiency disease at war, this paper argues, forced British clinicians to rescale food models to account for cultural difference, not merely army demographics and transport logics.
The same disease-fighting agents could not be applied universally to all soldiers: ethnicity, culture, and spiritual beliefs determined what foodstuffs and treatments were given to servicemen suffering scurvy and beri-beri. However, these subjects also traded nutritional knowledge: from researchers in laboratories to officials and soldiers on the ground, different factions of the British armies tackled the problem of deficiency disease by hybridizing ration scales. They co-created and experimented with items such as marmite, germinated daal, and mixed-flour breads to provide adequate amounts of vitamins C and D. In doing so, they opened up a space for cross-cultural therapies that transcended geographic and cultural difference - while also reifying hierarchies of knowledge at the scale of empire.

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Presenter 3

The Tragedy of Progress: George Sarton's Classicism and the Work of Scaling Histories of Science

Clare Kim

Washington University in St. Louis

Abstract

In the early twentieth century, George Sarton sought to articulate the relevance and disciplinary significance of the history of science. In lieu of locating the unity and organization of science in the language of protocol sentences promoted by logical positivists, Sarton emphasized that the understanding of science as "positive knowledge" could be located in the "study of its history." He sought to incorporate a diverse array of sources ranging from Japan and India to ancient Egypt and Greece, claiming their equivalence in the pursuit of science. For him, the study of the history of science would lead to a "new humanism" and the embrace of scientific internationalism in the present. This paper examines the problem of scale undergirding Sarton's understanding of the history of science. It tracks the historiographical efforts and representational techniques he utilized in order to promote a synthetic overview of science over time. Illustrating how Sarton drew from classical philology and a philosophical investment in ancient Greek tragedy to describe and narrativize science, this essay argues that Sarton ironically promoted a vision of scientific internationalism that Eurocentrically figured all scientists as Greek tragic heroes. Predicated on the "tragic fate" historical, scientific subjects as a universal condition, George Sarton's diverse accounts of science across time and space were rescaled under one unified narrative.

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Presenter 4

Molecular Globe

Lucas Melvin Mueller

University of Geneva

Abstract

Molecules have become important tools of global environmental governance since the mid-twentieth century. Experts, diplomats, and civil servants at national and international agencies have often framed environmental issues in terms of acceptable levels of specific molecules in air, food, and water. Greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), insecticide DDT, cancer-causing aflatoxin and other molecules have easily moved between local and global scales, providing a seemingly coherent frame for multifaceted global issues. These scientific objects have captured the imagination of environmental activists who have been concerned with individual carbon dioxide emissions and local toxic exposures. In this paper, I describe the 'molecularization' of global environmental issues in the case of aflatoxin, a food contaminant, in the 1960s and 1970s and of CFCs, atmospheric pollutants, in the 1980s and 1990s. I argue that framing environmental problems on the level of molecules has obscured concomitant questions of economic justice. For example, newly decolonized countries' forceful demands for food sovereignty, access to export markets, and development in the 1970s were transformed into technical questions of acceptable levels of aflatoxin in cash and staple crops. Governing the global environment on the technical-material level of the molecule has thus often served to reinforce existing unequal geopolitical and economic relations, while unruly environments have also created opportunities for scientists in the 'developing world' to contest such regimes.

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