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2020-2021

Fall Quarter

October 26 - Etienne Benson - University of Pennsylvania, History and Sociology of Science

"Environments in the Plural: Reconstructing a Concept’s Multiple Pasts to Reimagine a Movement’s Future"

Historians of science have recently begun to show how the environmental movement that emerged in the 1960s depended on the articulation of a new object of research and concern: “the environment,” conceived as singular, global, threatened, and knowable only through certain highly specialized forms of expertise. This is not the only way that the concept of environment has been understood or mobilized for social ends, however. This talk describes some of the alternative environments and environmentalisms that preceded “the” environment and “the” environmentalism with which we are most familiar, and suggests that these past forms may point the way toward more just and effective environmentalisms for the present and future. 

November 2 - Sokhieng Au - Univeristy of Iowa, Global Health Studies

"An Academic Among the Aid Workers: Bridging Public Health Practice and Academic Expertise"

In my fifteen years of working professionally as both a humanistic scholar of medicine and a public health analyst, I have often confronted the challenge of how to do both tasks well—and simultaneously. In theory, the two approaches would seem to have much synergistic potential to improve the health and wellbeing of the most vulnerable populations in this world, but in practice they remain largely irrelevant to each other. And yet, the grass always seems browner on the other side of that disciplinary divide. In our discussion/conversation, I will trace my unconventional career trajectory between the university and the humanitarian aid community in the U.S., Belgium, Guadeloupe, Cambodia, and now Iowa…, and offer some personal reflections on boundary work, bridge building, and the rather cumbersome idea of "operationalizing" academic theory. 

November 16 - Victoria Pitts-Taylor - Wesleyan University, Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

"The Chronopolitics of a Gender "Disorder" "

Scientific, clinical and popular understandings of gender non-conforming bodies and subjects often make explicit and implicit temporal claims about their timeliness and untimeliness. In this talk, I address the temporal framing of gender dysphoria in a recent highly controversial study about transgender-identified youth.  I situate my discussion in trans, queer, and disability scholarship on temporality in order to show how this case resonates with broader efforts to manage and control gender variance and transition through normalizing constructions of time and timing. In a range of social and political contexts, the “when” of gender is invoked to pose the question of “if” identities and embodied experiences are true, authentic, and worthy of recognition and support.

Winter Quarter

January 25 - Sarah Carson - Northwestern University, History, Science in Human Culture

"The Modern History of "Ancient" Indian Weather Prediction"

This talk explores several twentieth-century works whose Indian authors aspired to revive the “ancient” science of jyotiṣa śāstra (Sanskrit astral science) for the purposes of weather prediction. The slokas and verses presented in these heterogenous compilations provide evidence for the importance of short- and long-term forecasting in vernacular idioms, where prediction could apply equally to future times or distant locations of desired objects and effects. The talk highlights two periods of intensive interest in studying vernacular and early Indian weather knowledges: the first during the horrific famines of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century, and the second in the first optimistic decades of national independence (the 1950s and 1960s). Specifically, it will discuss the varied ways in which modern commentators folded together earthly and astrological weather knowledges in their scientific visions, as well as the competing pulls of regionalism and nationalism evident in their publication projects.

February 15 - Sugata Ray - University of California-Berkeley, South and Southeastern Asian Art

"A "Small" Story of the Jasmine Flower in the Age of Global Botany"

For the most part, scholarship on garden histories and plant cultures in early modern and colonial South Asia has focused on Mughal gardens, gardens established by colonial botanists, and the visual representations of plants. As such, imperial and colonial interventions in managing and ordering the natural environment has been seen as a form of far-reaching environmental governance. Contra this overdetermined statist emphasis, my talk focuses on non-imperial gardening practices that produced a very different idea of nature in the age of global botany. In specific, the talk focuses on eighteenth-century artisanal practices centered on the jasmine flower in the pilgrimage center of Braj in north India, where the god Krishna is believed to have spent his youth. We will see how a topophilic theology of venerating natural phenomena, alongside new techniques of gardening, engendered a specific imagination of the environment as an inclusive habitus of inventive play where sentient plants and humans could share a contingent correlation of equivalence. Emerging in a period marked by deforestation and a sweeping alteration of the region’s agrolandscape, the “small” story of artisanal practices surrounding the jasmine flower will then allow us to explore ideations of the environment that are now all but obscure.

March 1 - Naveeda Khan - Johns Hopkins University, Anthropology

"The Climate Negotiations and the Gift from the Global South"

With a focus on Bangladesh in the UN led global climate negotiations, this paper aims to elucidate how the Global South is positioned within the process.  While the many internal divisions within the countries constituting the South makes difficult any coherent or unified position, this talk highlights the evolution of the issue of loss and damage within the process.  I end by suggesting that the idea of loss and damage constitutes a kind of inter-generational gift from the Global South.

Spring Quarter

April 19 - Lindsay Smith - Arizona State University, School for the Future of Innovation in Society

"Mapping the Border Laboratory: Knowledge, experimentation, and necrological citizenship in the Mexican Borderlands"

In the face of a migration crisis, with an estimated 70,000-120,000 migrants disappeared in the Mexican borderlands in the last ten years, migrants and human rights activists are relying on emerging digital and forensic technologies to navigate this humanitarian challenge.  In this presentation I will examine an assemblage of humanitarian technologies used in US-Mexico border region. Focusing on the Mexican borderlands, from Guatemala to the United States, I will discuss consolidation of four border technologies that straddle state-based and grass-roots responses to migration and migrant death: GPS and ICT technologies, forensic DNA, isotope analysis, and biometrics. Although emerging from disparate intellectual traditions ranging from molecular biology to spatial sciences, taken together these technologies highlight (1) borders as spaces of innovation and experimentation on the part of migrants (2) the role of technologies in migrant citizenship, and (3) the rise of hybrid technologies that fuse human rights and security goals.  Developing the concept of necrological citizenship as an analog and accompaniment to biological citizenship, I suggest that the space of the surveilled and endangered body emerges as a potent site of organizing for new imaginaries and politics of the borderlands.

May 10 - Tiago Saraiva - Drexel University, History

"Cannibalism and Sadness: The Cloning of Californian Oranges in São Paulo and the Writing of Global History of Science"

This talk experiments with anthropophagy, or ritualized cannibalism, to write histories of science challenging entrenched divisions between Global North and Global South. While explorations on anthropophagy have been central to the ontological turn in science studies, I suggest the value of historically situating the concept among the modernist São Paulo avant-garde of the inter-war period to understand the significance of cloning practices learned by Brazilian agriculture scientists in California. Attention to the work of Brazilian researchers dealing with the ravages of a virus affecting local orange orchards – the sadness virus - reveals a continuum of practices of scientists and artists, all invested in saving Brazil from its alleged condition of ‘tropical sadness’. Contrasting with narratives stressing how the north imposes its presence in the south, or how the south resists the north, history of science written as history of cannibalism emphasizes the historical role of science in the devouring of the north by the south.

May 17 - Suman Seth - Cornell University, Science and Technology Studies

"A Decided Inaptitude in his Constitution: Race, Slavery, and Disability in the Nineteenth Century British Empire"

This talk explores the relationships between race, slavery, medicine, statistics, and disability in mid nineteenth-century Britain. At its core are a series of reports on military medical statistics, principally authored by Alexander Tulloch, that would become the backbone for subsequent claims about the reality and numerical value of race. In his Statistical Reports, Tulloch made an argument for the inability of Africans to adapt to climates far removed from those of their homelands. “Enough has been stated,” he wrote in 1840, “to afford another striking instance how unfitted is the constitution of the Negro for any other climate than that in which he is the native.” White bodies, by contrast, were hyper-able; temperatures in Canada, for example, offered “a striking illustration how little the constitution of our countrymen is likely to be affected even by the severest climate to which they are exposed.” Africans, by Tulloch’s logic, could travel to relatively few places safely, while Europeans—committed to a range of settler colonial projects—could claim a swathe of the world as their domain, even if the tropics remained a graveyard.

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