Dialogue I. The Peripatetic
Dr. Jan Golinski (University of New Hampshire)
A Career in Transit: James Dinwiddie and the Circulation of Knowledge between East and West
In recent years, historians of science have increasingly turned to metaphors of circulation when trying to understand how knowledge moves between different cultures. The prevailing language invokes textual transmission, long-distance networks, traveling objects, immutable mobiles, and personal go-betweens. This paper explores the career of the Scottish natural philosopher James Dinwiddie (1746-1815), in order to test these interpretive categories. Dinwiddie lived much of his life in motion, transporting instruments and artifacts, and conveying scientific knowledge as he did so. After working as an itinerant lecturer in England, Scotland, and Ireland, he joined Lord Macartney’s embassy to China in 1792. Following the mission to Beijing and Canton, he settled in Calcutta, where he became a professor at the British College of Fort William. In the course of his travels, he investigated and taught astronomy, physics, and the new science of galvanism. His work on the physical sciences in various settings can shed light on how knowledge is made in transit between places and cultures.
Dr. Robert Morrison (Bowdoin College)
Scholarly intermediaries between the Ottoman Empire and Renaissance Italy
Nicholas Copernicus (d. 1543) was the first person to propose a sun-centered cosmos for mathematical astronomy. But Copernicus did not cite earlier astronomers, whether from Europe or Islamic civilization, who worked within two hundred years of his own career. Leading experts on Copernicus have concluded that key aspects of Copernicus’ astronomy must have come from astronomers working in Islamic lands in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
This paper investigates one conduit of scientific information betweenDthe Islamic world and Renaissance Italy, a network of scholars spanning Italy, Crete and the Ottoman Empire. One of the most remarkable members of this network was Jewish scholar named Mūsā Jālīnūs. Mūsū Jālīnūs, known in Hebrew as Moshe Galeano, spent time in the Ottoman Sultan Bayezit’s court. By the first decade of the fifteenth century, Mūsā Jālīnūs had learned of important advances in astronomy, including some that later appeared in Copernicus’ work. And in the first decade of the fifteenth century, while Copernicus was at the University of Padua, Musā Jālīnus̄ traveled to nearby Venice and met prominent figures there. Not only did some of the scientific theories that Mūsā Jālīnūs described in his writings appear in Copernicus’ work but other theories that he described arose in the treatises of lesser-known Renaissance astronomers. The case of Mūsā Jālīnūs, and of the scholarly network more broadly, is an argument for not restricting oneself to the question of the transmission of Copernicus’ sources, but for thinking more broadly about connections between the lands surrounding the Eastern Mediterranean and Renaissance Europe.
Dialogue II. The Encyclopedic
Dr. Eugenia Lean (Columbia University)
Made to Order: Industrial Science, “Empirical” Practice (Shiyan) and Disciplining Knowledge in 1930s’ Chinese Technical Manuals
In the 1930s, leading industrialist and famous romance novel writer, Chen Diexian (1879-1940) compiled and published technological treatises and collectanea on household science, medicine, and industrial technology, ostensibly for the general reader. An examination of
the texts reveals how Chen mixed long-standing practices of collecting and compiling knowledge with new forms of industrial and commercial pursuits to popularize and legitimate the incorporation of modern science into daily life and industrial endeavors. In an era when words, texts and things were easily mass produced and often copied and pirated, Chen Diexian’s practices of editing sought to bring order to a world of material and textual abundance by serving to authenticate certain regimes of knowledge and practices, as well as objects. His texts promoted the virtue of shiyan, or vetting through practice and experimentation, to arm readers with strategies by which to identify false goods, non-native commodities and the inauthentic, even while seeking to identify certain forms of commerce as patriotic, technology and industry as honorable, and native production and products, virtuous. By focusing on these manuals, this article illuminates the role of commerce, maverick entrepreneurs, and popular print culture in endowing science with cultural authority and value in the Republican period.
Dr. Meghan Roberts (Bowdoin College)
Antoine Lavoisier’s Organic Enlightenment
Antoine Lavoisier is best known today for his work in chemistry but, as an indefatigable multitasker, he did not restrict himself to his experiments on air. His numerous activities included the study of agronomy, the science of agricultural reform. Lavoisier turned his estate Fréchines into an experimental farm, a site where he grew new crops and introduced new breeds of livestock. Intriguingly, he also used Fréchines to model himself as an enlightened patriarch and zealous public reformer. He had a holistic social vision for the estate, one that went beyond planting turnips. He founded a new school, made charitable gifts, and intervened in family squabbles, all the while displaying himself as a moral exemplar. Fréchines thus reveals different threads of Lavoisier’s intellectual persona — empirical precision, sentimental paternalism, and social reform — and shows the complex mix of values that defined scientific and public merit at the end of the eighteenth century.
Dialogue III. The Reflexive
Dr. David Hecht (Bowdoin College)
The Dream of Nuclear Power: History, Technology, and the "Quick Fix"
How did nuclear energy become green? Debates on the subject are far from concluded, but there is a persistent and perhaps growing constituency for the notion that nuclear power should be an integral part of the world’s energy future. This paper explores the Cold War origins of this phenomenon. Contemporary nuclear power advocates can draw on existing images of nuclear energy – and they may or may not be aware that these images were created in political crucibles that had little to do with environmentalism. Cold warriors in the United States (and elsewhere) saw nuclear power as an easy and effective route to economic and geopolitical clout. This paper analyzes three examples of Cold War-era rhetoric about nuclear power. The first consists of journalists in the immediate aftermath of World War II, who breathlessly repeated visions of social utopia made possible by cheap and inexhaustible sources of energy. The second consists of politicians – mostly notably Dwight Eisenhower and his “Atoms for Peace” proposal – who envisioned nuclear power as a means to strengthen the United States’ global position in the mid-1950s. The third consists of industry leaders who, particularly amid the energy crisis of the early 1970s, promoted nuclear power as an economic imperative. The common thread throughout this rhetoric was a healthy dose of technological enthusiasm. Throughout the Cold War period, nuclear energy was treated as a “magic bullet” that could sidestep complicated social and economic realities and obviate the need to make hard choices. This rhetorical pattern does not map precisely onto our current discourse. But important elements of it persist, as technological enthusiasts continue to dream of facile solutions to sustainability dilemmas, making it more difficult to assess what nuclear power can and cannot provide.
Dr. Keith Peterson (Colby College)
Values in Science as Social Knowledge: The Case of Reflexive Ecology
Interpreters of the sciences have long since demonstrated that “external” social values impact “internal” scientific methods and content in various ways, many with the aspiration of improving the production of scientific knowledge. Recently some ecologists have actively embraced such insights, broken down the classical external-internal distinction, and integrated reflexive, evaluative considerations into their practices. Instead of seeing the social as outside the science, these researchers see themselves as situated social agents expressing personal and cultural value commitments and exercising deliberate choice in their selection of models and metaphors. Recognizing the values implicit in such choices allows researchers to reflexively adapt to social and natural changes, and to improve communication about environmental problems and solutions. This would seem to benefit both the scientists and the communities in which they practice. The question is whether such reflexive strategies are robust enough to effectively frame a rich dialogue about values at the interface of scientific knowledge production and social and environmental policy. After a look at the case of the reflexive ecologists, I’ll explore some aspects of value theory that are not addressed by them, but if addressed would aid us in understanding the role of social knowledge and social values in ecology and environmentalism.
Dialogue IV. The Pious
Dr. Pierce Salguero (Penn State University/Abington College)
The Canon of Chinese Buddhist Medicine: Its Construction in the 7th Century, and Some of its Ramifications for Present-day Scholarship
In his massive Forest of Gems in the Garden of the Dharma (Fayuan zhulin), the Chinese monastic encyclopedist Daoshi (d. 683) produced the first comprehensive collection of Buddhist scriptural passages related to medicine. My paper explores the structure and content of Daoshi’s composition, and how it subsequently became the authoritative statement of Buddhist medical knowledge. From the medieval to the modern period, Daoshi’s work has been continuously echoed in both structure and content, and continues to inform writings on health and healing by Buddhist exegetes even today. Paying particular attention to the pivotal role of encyclopedias, I will also analyze how Daoshi’s editorial decisions have shaped scholarly discourses, and how they continue to frame our historical questions and interpretations. In conclusion, I will offer some reflections on how reexamining the Buddhist medical canon can provide fresh directions for studying the historical relationship between Buddhism and medicine in China and beyond.
Dr. Brigid E. Vance (Colorado State University Pueblo)
Exorcising Dreams and Envisioning Health in Late Ming China
My paper explores the relationship between dreams and nightmares and health and healing. The literati compilers of the 1636 compendium An Explication of the Profundities in the Forest of Dreams (hereafter Forest of Dreams) not only catalogued and organized nearly 5,000 dream examples from the Dynastic histories, but also provided readers with practical solutions for self-healing. Compilers presented twenty-five images of talismans, accompanying incantations, and related advice aimed either generally at ensuring a good night’s sleep, or specifically at offering protection against the deleterious effects of inauspicious dreams or nightmares. Forest of Dreams not only offered compilers and readers a means to comprehend the world of dreams, but also the methods necessary to escape a world of nightmares. An analysis of the exorcist techniques and methods contained in this compendium offers insights into the history of medicine in late imperial China, revealing intersections between dreams and health.
Dialogue V. The Mathematical
Dr. Arielle Saiber (Bowdoin College)
The Diamond-Winged House Fly: L. B. Alberti’s Equivocal Tribute to Mathematics
Circa 1441, the great, early modern, Italian polymath Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) wrote a brief encomium entitled Musca—an extended imitation of Lucian’s The Fly. Musca was not, however, merely a spirited humanist exercise satirizing pompous epideictic rhetoric, but an indication of Alberti’s complex relationship to the humble and workaday, as well as to the bridges he was building between the sciences and the arts. To yank the heights of virtue and virtuosity back down to earth, and catapult a small, common creature up among the stars, Alberti employed a narrative strategy that expertly individuated the physical, intellectual, spiritual, moral, martial, and artistic excellence filling its subject’s repertoire. With fine-tuned wit, Alberti included among the fly’s panoply of gifts an extensive mastery of the sciences, especially that of the mathematical arts. Taking the paradoxical encomium Musca as a point of departure, this paper explores Alberti’s praise-and-critique of mathematics throughout his works in order to bring into relief the central role that mathematics played in his vision of and for the human and natural worlds. How his vision of mathematics (its objectives, its obligations, its limits, etc.) does and does not differ from his contemporaries, as well as thinkers before and after him, is the question I wish to explore with the members of the symposium.
Dr. Leah Zuo (Bowdoin College)
Keeping Your Ear to the Cosmos: Standards of Validity in the Northern Song (960−1127) Music Reforms
A zeal for change characterized Northern Song China. In resonance with the spirit of the age, musicologists implemented six reforms over a mere two hundred years. The common goal of these reforms was to identify the absolute pitch of the primary note “Yellow Bell,” which generates all other pitch-standards and serves as the foundation of musical scales. This paper examines the standards of validity upheld by musicologists in exploring this issue of harmonics. The primary standard they endorsed was cosmic coherence. When the Song scholars contemplated music, they set their attention on an expansive universe rather than the intimate correlation between auditory organs and sounds. Within this cosmos, the Yellow Bell pitch was believed to regulate not only the sonic sphere, but also all numbers, all measurements, and all quantitative arts. The coherence of this “mathematical” universe trumped the human ear, which was relegated to secondary importance. The Song music reforms thus illustrate how an apparently empirical science drew its validity not from sensory experience but from a broader explanatory scheme fixated on coherence.