Papers   (by topic)

Early Modern Republic of Letters

“A Long History of Breakdowns: A Historiographic Review”   DOWNLOAD

Dániel Margócsy (Hunter College – CUNY)

This talk argues that the dissolution of collaborative alliances is historically conditioned. It takes a long, chronological approach and attempts to unite the disparate historiography of the early modern Republic of Letters, the literature on twentieth-century globalization, and the scholarship on actor-network theory. It argues that we can perceive two seemingly contradictory changes to scientific networks over the past five hundred years. At the level of individuals, networks have become increasing fragile, as improvements in communication and transportation technologies have made it easier both to create new constellations of people and materials, and to replace and rearrange them. But at the level of institutions, collaborations have become much more extensive and long-lived, with single projects routinely outlasting even the arc of a full scientific career. In the modern world, the strength of institutions and macro-networks often relies on the fragility of micro-networks. While the early modern Republic of Letters was characterized by strong and robust ties between individuals, modern technoscience instead constructs long-term institutions out of much shorter-lived interpersonal networks that are both easy to set up and to dissolve.

“An Imagined Asia: Reordering European Spheres of Knowledge after the Black Death”   DOWNLOAD

Matthew Sargent (Caltech)

Prior to 1348, European merchants and missionaries had extensive contacts with Asia. Expatriate trading enclaves were established in Chinese cities, merchants’ handbooks detailed trade routes and mercantile practices in Asia, and European readers eagerly devoured the adventurous tales and travel narratives of those who had journeyed to the East. The Black Death and the near simultaneous collapse of the Yuan Dynasty in China suddenly severed these relationships in the mid-fourteenth century, however, and direct contacts between Europe and East and Southeast Asia were not reestablished for nearly a century. Asia was not forgotten in the meantime and, if anything, the absence of contact increased European’s appetite for information about the East. This paper explores the reordering of European knowledge about Asia in the wake of the Black Death. The severing of contacts disrupted some spheres of knowledge more than others. Mercantile networks, which had traditionally been highly secretive and built on personal relationships were almost entirely erased, leaving those who traded in imported goods struggling to get accurate information. As a result, merchants turned to vernacular literature and travel narratives to glean knowledge about the material products of Asia. Meanwhile, popular literature about Asia surged in popularity despite the absence of new material; indeed, the most popular secular book of the Middle Ages, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, was an imagined journey cobbled together from earlier reports after the Plague had rendered further travel impossible. These shifting readerships and their often conflicting demands reshaped European images of Asia during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and colored the expectations of the next generation of explorers during the Age of Exploration.

“Galileo’s Letters: Reconstructing a Seventeenth-Century Network”   DOWNLOAD

Paula Findlen (Stanford University)

Galileo’s letters provide us with a fascinatingly imperfect map of his relations with his society. This project maps Galileo’s surviving correspondence in light of deliberate removal of materials during the trial of 1633, subsequent efforts to collect and edit letters, and the famous story of the rediscovery of Galileo manuscripts being used to wrap meat in eighteenth-century Florence. What does Galileo’s network look like from his extant letters? How can we use them to develop a portait of what has been lost as well as preserved? More fundamentally, what can we learn about Galileo from this perspective?

Transnational Networks

“Broken for Whom? The Successful Failure of the International Map of the World”   DOWNLOAD

Bill Rankin (Yale University)

The International Map of the World was a massive collaborative project to make a uniform atlas of the earth; it was first proposed in 1891 and remained a going concern for nearly a century. By some measures, it was one of the most successful mapping projects in history. In 1913 its standards were given the force of an international treaty signed by nearly every country in the world, and thousands of maps were ultimately published under its name. But by the 1970s the map was dismissed as “cartographic wallpaper” and is now seen as a “cautionary tale” of the failures of internationalism. How should we evaluate this kind of project, which met or exceeded its initial scientific ambitions only to fade slowly into oblivion? What, if anything, was broken? I argue that focusing too closely on actor networks misses the larger shifts that explain this kind of multi-generational project, especially the unexpected role of the US military, decolonization, and the changing political-epistemic status of representational mapping in general.

“Ideological Conflict and Socialist Techno-Scientific Networks”   DOWNLOAD

Elidor Mëhilli (Hunter College – CUNY)

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union developed and promoted networks of techno-scientific exchange within the so-called Second World. The immediate pattern for these interactions largely grew out of Soviet policies and encounters in Europe and Asia in the aftermath of the Second World War. The Soviets sought European factories, enterprises, industrial blueprints, and components, in addition to keeping an eye on East European scientific institutes and laboratories for inventions or innovations they could adopt. Yet it is also true that socialist countries became increasingly involved in techno-scientific exchange among themselves (institutionalized, notably, within the Council for Mutual Economic Aid, which was established in 1949). In addition to these formal arrangements, socialist states also created opportunities for informal contacts and borrowings. Offering a broad outline of these developments, this paper then addresses a particular question: What happened to such systems of exchange and channels of communication—formal and informal— once political rifts had developed within the communist world? The most notable such moment, of course, was the split between the Soviet Union and China in 1960–1961. Did earlier networks simply cease to exist? Or were they reinvented and refashioned? My contribution is based on an extensive overview of older and newer contributions to the academic literature, as well as evidence gathered from a number of former communist state archives (mainly in Albania and Germany).

“A Fragile Assemblage: Mutant Bird Flu and the Ends of Preparedness”   DOWNLOAD

Andrew Lakoff (USC)

Efforts to ameliorate global health require the knitting together of a political project with a knowledge project. Such efforts seek to improve human wellbeing across national borders; but in order to do so, they must constitute a common global population whose condition of health (and illness) can be known and worked on. The scientific networks that are set up to monitor and intercede in global health may depend on fragile political settlements. These settlements, in turn, may be threatened by political and economic forces such as the transnational pharmaceutical industry, the anti-globalization movement, and the threat of bioterrorism. This paper will focus on the World Health Organization’s recent “pandemic preparedness” initiatives to explore these complex dynamics. In particular, it will look at WHO’s work to set up a global influenza virus sharing mechanism among flu researchers in order to track the mutations of H5N1 (avian influenza) at a global scale, in the hope of averting or mitigating a deadly pandemic. Two recent controversies illustrate the difficulty in sustaining a global scientific exchange network in the face of global conflict: first, the Indonesian government’s (2006) refusal to share H5N1 viruses with WHO on the grounds of global inequity in the provision of medical goods such as vaccines; and second, the US national biosecurity advisory board’s (2011) recommendation against the publication of an article reporting on the lab-based creation of a novel and transmissible strain of H5N1.

Lab Studies

“To Thaw or Not to Thaw: The Material Afterlives of the International Biological Program, 1964 to 2014”   DOWNLOAD

Joanna Radin (Yale University)

In the mid-twentieth century a range of life scientists engaged in large-scale efforts to take stock of biological baselines as part of a decade long initiative called the International Biological Program (IBP; 1964-1974). Human biologists who participated in this project relied on new technologies of cold storage to stockpile thousands of blood samples salvaged from so-called “primitive” peoples they thought to be endangered by the corrosive forces of modernity. By 1974, the IBP had come to a formal end but many of the blood samples collected during that time persisted in freezers around the world. This paper examines the endurance of this blood as a potential, frozen biomedical resource after the conclusion of the IBP. In particular I direct attention to the uses and non-uses of these specimens in the face of new questions about the ethics of human subjects research and the politics of indigeneity in the 20th century. Comparing the ambiguous fates of IBP-era collections now located in places as dispersed as the United States, United Kingdom or Australia, provides a powerful and tangible means of considering what happens when research materials outlive the initial networks that brought them into existence.

“Scientific Diplomacy, Non-governmental Forensics, and the end of Human Rights Identifications”   DOWNLOAD

Lindsay Smith (University of New Mexico)

In 1984 the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team was formed as a non-governmental organization, which aimed to apply the latest scientific techniques to the discovery of mass graves, identification of the dead, and the process of transitional justice. This inaugurated a new era in forensic science as groups of young students, trained at first by US academics and later by other established teams, worked outside of and often against local governments to document war crimes in post-conflict settings like Guatemala, Columbia, Peru, and South Africa. Combining an explicit political commitment to human rights and research and practice, these groups formed networks which spanned continents. They were united in their advocacy that developing a new science of identification and violence documentation could heal families and societies, satisfying the “right to know” after post-conflict atrocities. With the global war on terror, forensic science was remade through US and European scientific diplomacy focusing on capacity building and the creation of global forensic labs in post-conflict settings. In this paper, I analyze this shift in the substance and style of forensic work of through a focus on the Latin American Initiative to Identify the Disappeared, a US-funded DNA analysis project to identify the disappeared of Guatemala, Argentina, and Peru. Through close attention to scientific networks underlying forensic science in post conflict settings, I examine the shifting ground between non-governmental human rights forensics and an emerging security- and disaster-focused identification grounded in global law enforcement.

“Intersectional Meshworks and Changing Infrastructures of Knowledge Making”   DOWNLOAD

Sharon Traweek (UCLA)

Is the global scientific bureaucratic apparatus for large-scale facilities more resilient than the Cold War? Which labs morph into new research centers and which ones become museums? What survives and what disintegrates? Which networks outlive their research agendas and their facts? Do they use their strategic practices for innovation to destroy their own resources and then rebuild? Do the daughters inherit, instead of the sons?


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