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Workshop: "Humanities Workshop on Science and Nature"

Feb 01, 2019 01:00 pm to 06:00 pm
Organiser: Professorship of Cultural Economic History

Microphotography as Transnational Scientific Method: Ruchi Ram Sahni and Suekichi Kinoshita’s Radioactivity Research in Germany and Britain

Dr Amelia Bonea (Heidelberg University)

Attempts to render the world of radiation visible drew on a longer tradition of using photography to study radioactivity, including the work of C. T. R. Wilson, the inventor of the cloud chamber, and Suekichi Kinoshita (1877-1934), a little known Japanese physicist who studied with Woldemar Voigt in Göttingen and Ernest Rutherford in Manchester, before returning to Japan to become a Professor of Physics at Tokyo Imperial University. In 1910, shortly after his return to Japan, Kinoshita produced the first detailed study of the action of alpha rays on photographic films. His method of counting alpha particles was used and adapted by other European and colonial scientists, including Ruchi Ram Sahni (1863-1948), himself a little known figure in the annals of the history of science. Born at Dera Ismail Khan (now in Pakistan), Sahni studied physics and chemistry at Government College, Lahore, and Presidency College, Calcutta, before returning to the former institution as a Professor of Science from 1887 until his retirement in 1918. He conducted research on the properties of alpha, beta and gamma rays and familiarized himself with microphotography in the course of a research visit to Germany and Britain shortly before the outbreak of WWI.

The paper evaluates Sahni and Kinoshita’s radioactivity research against the background of their careers in their respective countries, colonial India and Meiji Japan, as well as in relation to the research conducted in Germany and Britain at the time of their sojourns in Europe. It reconstructs the transnational networks of collaboration in the field of radioactivity not only from the perspective of the two men’s scientific biographies, but also from that of the material culture of nuclear physics, namely the use of microphotography to capture the action of alpha, beta and gamma particles on photographic films.


Exterminating Flies: Science, Society and Ecosystem in Interwar Tokyo

Professor Akihisa Setoguchi (Kyoto University) & Toshiba University Visiting Professor at Heidelberg University

In Gaichū no Tanjo (Birth of Harmful Insects), I argued how modern nation building has changed the relationship between humans and nature. Before the early Meiji period, most farmers considered insect outbreaks uncontrollable natural disasters. However, in the 1890s, the government enacted a law forcing farmers to eliminate pests from their paddies. Entomologists also worked strenuously to educate farmers on ways to control insects using scientific knowledge. As a result, the concept of gaichū (i.e. all harmful insects which should be controlled by humans) became popular.

This concept expanded to include flies and mosquitoes, which transmitted many diseases in the 1920s. An outbreak of typhoid fever, one of diseases transmitted by flies, became a serious problem in metropolitan areas at the time. As a result, the Tokyo city government began hae tori dē (Swat the Fly Day) to mobilize citizens to exterminate flies. Medical entomologists had also begun to play a crucial role in educating citizens about the harmful nature of flies. In these ways, science and politics have changed the relationship between humans and flies significantly.

In this presentation, however, I revisit my thesis and argue from a different perspective by suggesting that Swat the Fly Day was a result of the ecological relationship of insect, germs, and humans. In the early 1930s, the day resulted in an uneven distribution of flies caught in each ward. Two things factored in this unevenness: the actual size of the fly population and the distribution of the lower-income classes. From an ecological perspective, I argue that flies were not the cause of the disease outbreaks, rather the results of a human-made ecosystem.


Beyond the Ivory Tower: Collaborative Knowledge Production, Citizen Science, and Sustainability in the Anthropocene

Dr Carsten Wergin (Heidelberg University)

Australia has a unique environmental history. It is where two of the most important global fields of transcultural expression have confronted each other for decades: heritage preservation and the resources industry. On the one hand, the heritage of Aboriginal Australia continues to astonish scientists. Those keep producing more evidence for a living past that is at least 60,000 years old. On the other hand, the well-being of the nation state relies on the large-scale exploration of its natural resources that sees Indigenous country turn into industrialised space. This 'wicked problem' is at the heart of a conflict that emerged in the early 2000s, found its peak in 2013 and continues to reverberate until this day: The fight for Walmadany / James Price Point, a significant Aboriginal cultural site on the Indian Ocean coast that was chosen for the construction of a € 35 Billion EURO liquefied natural gas facility (LNG). With reference to illustrative examples from empirical data collected during long-term fieldwork on environmental decision-making and citizen science projects in this conflict, the paper argues that in order for scientific research and practice to adequately address the multiple socionatural challenges posted in the Anthropocene, it needs to cater to the involvement of numerous and diverse actors in processes of knowledge production. The paper outlines some of the methodological challenges this poses, and how to address them.


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