Occasional notes on calls, events, publications, and more that caught our attention. Please tweet or email us your own items.
Theme: Experts and Expertise
Of Dodos, Cane, and Migrants: Networking Migrant Knowledge between Mauritius and Hawai’i in the 1860s
Editor’s note: As has previously been mentioned on this blog, our sister blog, Migrant Knowledge, also always bears some relevance to the history of knowledge. This is not surprising since, as that blog’s motto points out, it seeks to “writ[ e] knowledge into the history of migration and migration into the history of knowledge.” In that spirit, we offer this crossposting from Migrant Knowledge as we have occasionally done since that blog’s inception.
During the nineteenth century, certain tropical islands and continental coasts in the world’s three major oceans witnessed the long-distance migration of millions of bonded laborers, chiefly though not exclusively from Asia. These migrations had lasting social, cultural, and demographic effects on both their places of origin and their destinations. Public memory of this form of migration, remembered as indenture or contract labor, plays a prominent role in local history and identity construction in sites ranging from Suriname and Fiji, South Africa and Trinidad to Mauritius and Hawai’i.Continue reading “Of Dodos, Cane, and Migrants: Networking Migrant Knowledge between Mauritius and Hawai’i in the 1860s”
African American Lucumí Devotees’ Adoption and Adaptation of African Diasporic Religious Knowledge in the U.S.
This short piece traces how the Black Power era affected the unfolding of the transmission of African diasporic religious knowledge and how it contributed to the evolution of specifically African American variations of Lucumí in the U.S. Most historical studies examining the influence of the Black Power movement on religious expression in the U.S. focus on Christian or Muslim practices, largely overlooking African diasporic religions like Haitian Vodou or Lucumí, the Cuban variant of the Yoruba religion.1 Yet, these religions began to take root in the U.S. around the time the Black Power movement emerged on the national stage. This omission is all the more surprising in that African American Lucumí practices, in particular, illustrate how Black Power-inspired notions of identity and community found expression in a deeply religious form.2 An examination of the emergence of these religions in the U.S. shows how the expectations and experiences of the early African American devotees, who entered these religions in increasing numbers from the late 1960s onward, shaped the development of these religions in the U.S.
Continue reading “African American Lucumí Devotees’ Adoption and Adaptation of African Diasporic Religious Knowledge in the U.S.”
Human Genetics with(out) Eugenic Knowledge? Towards a History of Knowledge about Human Heredity in West Germany
Since 1945, no German book on eugenics has been published. However, during two decades of reconstruction of the science of human genetics, which is fundamental to eugenics, the problems of eugenics repeatedly came to the fore and were discussed lively in wide circles.1
In the preface to his monograph Eugenik. Kommende Generationen in der Sicht der Genetik (1966, Eugenics: Coming Generations in the View of Genetics), the West German human geneticist Otmar von Verschuer (1896–1969), presenting himself as an expert in eugenics, emphasized that it was necessary for “this complex of topics” to be presented in a way that was “generally understandable.” His academic accomplishments might have proven his expertise as his career was largely intertwined with the academic boom in eugenics, or “racial hygiene,” as it was called in Germany before 1945. With the help of hereditary knowledge, the eugenics movement aimed to improve the genetic health of human populations. In addition to their intention to solve social problems by biological means, eugenicists also desired to be perceived as a scientific community. In the Weimar Republic, representatives of racial hygiene not only gained access to political decision-makers but also began an intensive process of professionalization.2
Continue reading “Human Genetics with(out) Eugenic Knowledge? Towards a History of Knowledge about Human Heredity in West Germany”
Glimpses into a History of Knowledge on the Antimalarial Lariam® in Zambia
You may have heard of the antimalarial agent mefloquine during the Covid-19 pandemic, as scientists suggested repurposing the drug to combat the novel coronavirus. Most drugs are developed for the body of a 27-year-old male Caucasian, and so was this antimalarial. Mefloquine was discovered in the Antimalaria Drug Discovery Program—the biggest program of its kind—launched by the American Army in 1963. Over a period of fifteen years 250,000 antimalarial agents were tested at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) in Washington DC. In 1969, researchers discovered WR 142,490, which became known as mefloquine in 1975. While the clinical trials were conducted in malaria-endemic areas, the drug was later marketed by the Basel-based Swiss pharmaceutical company F. Hofmann-La Roche (Roche) as Lariam®.
Continue reading “Glimpses into a History of Knowledge on the Antimalarial Lariam® in Zambia”
Provenance Research and Attribution Knowledge of Ancient Middle Eastern Art
Until the 1990s, provenance research, or the history of ownership, was mainly conducted to determine the attribution and authenticity of an artwork. Provenance research grew significantly after the Washington Principles of 1998 and the accompanying increased awareness of the issues surrounding Holocaust-era art theft in Europe. Museums are also committed to documenting transfers of ownership of an object to avoid cultural patrimony issues related to questionably exported antiquities and colonial-era acquisitions.
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Symptoms of the Jet Age: Global Air Mobility and Disease Control in the 1960s
Soon after the global SARS outbreaks in 2003, and many years before the current novel coronavirus pandemic led to a historically unique shutdown of global air traffic, health experts anticipated the vital role air connections would play in the likely event of a worldwide zoonotic pandemic. In 2006, for example, the chief doctor at Frankfurt Airport observed, “In the context of globalization, we in Europe must assume that infection outbreaks on other continents will within 14–24 hours pose a considerable threat to our German population.”1 For medical and global historians, past relations between air traffic, plagues, and health policies present a promising, still largely unexplored research topic.2 Stranded last spring due to a COVID-19 flight ban myself, I started wondering how experts in epidemiology and sanitary control reacted to the rise of mass air travel. How did health experts cope with the breakthrough of the jet age in the 1960s and what were their strategies against the spread of contagious diseases by airplanes?
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Drifting Along: Unemployment and Interwar Social Research, from Marienthal to Muncie
Crosspost from Migrant Knowledge
In January of 1929, the husband-and-wife sociologists Robert and Helen Lynd published what would become a landmark work of popular ethnography called Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture. The Lynds’ broadly accessible book presented an in-depth profile of the social and civic life in Muncie, Indiana, a “typical” American community which, not coincidentally, had a very large white, Protestant population and relatively small, marginalized communities of immigrants and African Americans. Despite the somewhat unrepresentative picture of American society portrayed in their study, the Lynds were motivated by the progressive social impulse that had been established in the work of the sociologist Thorstein Veblen. Their intention was to survey the injustices and inequalities of the modern “pecuniary” society, which made material wealth the ultimate value. Vigorously promoted by its publisher, the book was the first social-scientific study to become a best-seller, and it would become the go-to reference for mass marketers trying to figure out what motivated the average American consumer just before the economy collapsed into the Great Depression.1
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Public and Scientific Uncertainty in the Time of COVID-19
As historian of science Lorraine Daston recently remarked, COVID-19 has thrown us back into a state of “ground-zero empiricism.” The manifold manifestations of COVID-19 and the many unknowns involved are provoking scientific speculation that is often based on nothing more than chance observations and personal anecdotes. The radical uncertainty of the current situation, writes Daston, has catapulted us back to the seventeenth century, with almost everything up for grabs, “just as it was for the members of the earliest scientific societies—and everyone else—circa 1660.”1
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Cranach’s ‘Johann’ and Art Historical Knowledge at the Met
This is the second of three pieces related to provenance research that we are publishing in conjunction with the 6th German/American Provenance Exchange Program (PREP) in Washington, DC.
In 1908, The Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased from the French art dealer Kleinberger Galleries a sixteenth-century portrait believed to be that of Johann, Duke of Saxony, painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder. The Museum’s paintings curator, Roger Fry, had learned of the availability of this little-known work by the German Renaissance master late in 1907, and through correspondence with Kleinberger confirmed its provenance and attribution, which were attested by the eminent art historians Max Friedländer and Wilhelm von Bode. The picture crossed the Atlantic on the Courraine, arrived at the Met on February 3, and was installed in its galleries soon after. It was the first work by Cranach the Elder in the Metropolitan’s collection.
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