The nineteenth and twentieth centuries mark the period in which science became globalized and institutionalized as a dominant epistemology trumping all others.
The scientific study of the natural world (Botany, Taxonomy, Systematics, Geology, Comparative zoology), of human behavior and society (Psychology and Sociology), and of the past (History and Archaeology) emerged and developed their own disciplinary methodologies and notions of expertise and professionalism. As a way of understanding the globalization of science in non-European contexts such as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), scholars have turned to the field sciences such as natural history, geology, and cartographic surveying, highlighting these disciplines’ intimate connection to imperial conquest and global trade networks. Drawing on germinal works of Michel Foucault and Edward Said, some have argued that the ‘sciences’ served as a powerful tool in the hands of European conquerors. According to this view, disciplines including mapping, statistical census gathering, natural history, archaeology, and the taxonomy of peoples, languages, and religious traditions allowed Europeans to define, categorize and order—to“know”—colonized territories and peoples and hence to dominate and rule them. But as critics have pointed out, this perspective problematically attributes the spread of the taxonomical revolution beyond Europe to “the often violent imposition of ‘rationality’ on cultures originally endowed with ‘another reason’.” Furthermore, science as an epistemology is now firmly entrenched in and embraced by Middle Eastern societies suggesting that its advent was something more than simply imposition. In order to challenge the ‘science as imposition’ narrative and to develop a more nuanced understanding of the globalization of science in the region—its perceived promises and perils and the role of local epistemologies in the development of modern science—this panel considers the reception/assimilation/rejection/translation of scientific theories and practices by the peoples of the region through examples from a variety of scientific disciplines. While the politics of knowledge production occurred in the context of state modernization (as in Ottoman Egypt and the central lands of the Ottoman empire), on one hand, and the extension of European power into these regions, on the other, the panel considers other social, economic, and intellectual developments, which shaped (and were shaped by) this process.
This conference brings together scholars from the Middle East, Europe, the United States, and Canada, and will explore important issues related to the history of science in the MENA region during the 18th-20th centuries—a critical period of change and modernization when Middle Easterners were concerned about the rising power of European states and societies and the weakness of Islamic ones in relation to them. Conference participants will present papers, which consider the nature of encounters between Islamic societies and the west as the balance of power between these regions shifted in the favor of Europe, including the role of science in modernization and development in the MENA region, the relationship between modern science and religion (Islam), the effects of European imperialism on the spread of modern science in the MENA (and the Global South more generally), and the use of science and technology by MENA states and societies to combat foreign domination in the region.
Session 3: Producing and Institutionalizing Knowledge, 9:30-11:30am–Marwa Elshakry
DANIEL STOLZ: “OTTOMAN DEBT AS A PROBLEM OF KNOWLEDGE”
JENNIFER L. DERR: “FIGURING THE EGYPTIAN ENDEMIC: THE ENDEMIC DISEASE SECTION OF THE EGYPTIAN MINISTRY OF PUBLIC HEALTH AND THE FORMULATION OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, 1928-1944”
Session 4: Creating & Crossing Boundaries, 1:00-3:00pm – Sahar Bazzaz
TAYLOR MOORE: “THE WISE WOMEN AND WINIFRED: FERTILITY TALISMANS AND THE MAGICAL ROLE OF ETHNOGRAPHIC COLLECTIONS IN INTERWAR EGYPT”
ELISE K. BURTON: “OUTPOSTS OF WESTERN SCIENCE? BUILDING GENETIC LABORATORIES IN LEBANON AND ISRAEL IN THE 1960S”
WILL CARRUTHERS: “ARCHAEOLOGICAL CIRCULATIONS: EGYPT, INDIA AND SCIENTIFIC GEOGRAPHIES IN THE EARLY COLD WAR”
DISCUSSION OF POSTERS–3:30-5 pm.
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