Exploring Traditions: Sources for a Global History of Science

30 November 2013

CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DT - SG1&2

Register online via the link at the top right hand side of this page
Conference fee: £15 (full), £7 (students) - includes lunch and tea/coffee
Deadline: Sunday 24 November 2013


Dr Sujit Sivasundaram (Faculty of History)

Professor Simon Schaffer (HPS)


This workshop is the second in a series that continues an important set of debates and reflexions on the interaction between histories of the sciences and models of global history.  These debates ask fundamental questions about what science has meant on the global stage and how sciences have come to take form through global confrontations, connections and politics. A previous CRASSH workshop in May 2009, entitled Are we ready to recast the history of science?, made a significant contribution to this historiographical conversation and generated a special Focus issue in Isis (2010).

The first workshop marked the visit to Cambridge of two scholars from South Africa and India: Prof. Keith Breckenridge (Witwatersrand) and Prof. Irfan S. Habib (Delhi). The keynote speakers at the second workshop will be Dr. Lauren Minsky (NYU, Abu Dhabi) and Dr. David Lambert (Warwick). An aim of these workshops is to link UK-based scholars with those working elsewhere in the world on questions of the sciences’ past. The network is also connected with the Centres of South Asian Studies and African Studies and the Faculty of History and the Department of History and Philosophy of Science in the University of Cambridge.

The need for a global history of science emerged from a series of critiques about the map of the history of science. It was felt that European materials and languages had dominated the telling of science’s past. There was the criticism that if the wider world emerged in narrations of the history of science it did so in the name of European expansion and empire. Attention was paid to how scholars in other parts of the world had generated nationalist accounts of their intellectual history in responding to European narrations. And there was the theoretical problem that European approaches to the history of science, privileging practice theory or actor-network theory, were being expanded elsewhere. The turn to the global has been refreshing and politically important but has generated a series of counter-questions. Does the global flatten space in histories of science? Does the global present a view from nowhere without taking locality seriously? How can radically different sorts of knowledge traditions be brought together? How should historians of science deal with fault-lines between regions, or oceans and lands, or cities and hinterlands?

This workshop will allow participants to work through these critiques and help refine the conceptual vocabulary of future histories of science. It also gives the chance to reflect on what global histories of science are for. This will take up the comments made by Breckenridge and Habib at the first meeting, about the political and ethical misuses of histories of science (even those with global or post-colonial inflections) in India and in South Africa. Papers will be presented by post-graduate students and by post-doctoral scholars. Lambert will discuss his new book from Chicago University Press. We hope that students and scholars engaging with histories of science from different vantage points and at different stages will attend.

Keynote speakers: Lauren Minsky (NYU, Abu Dhabi) & David Lambert (Warwick University)



Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CRASSH) and the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Co-sponsored by the CRASSH Research Group on ‘Global Science’

Accommodation for non-paper giving delegates

We are unable to arrange accommodation, however, the following websites may be of help.

Visit Cambridge
Cambridge Rooms
University of Cambridge accommodation webpage

NB. CRASSH is not able to help with the booking of accommodation.


Administrative assistance: conferences@crassh.cam.ac.uk

9.30 - 10.00


10.00 - 11.15


  • Rohan Deb Roy: An unseen, awful visitant": The Production of Burdwan fever, c. 1870-74
  • Michael Sugarman: The plague, medicine, and nationalist politics in Bombay, 1896-1916

Coffee break

11.45 - 13.00


  • David Maxwell: From iconoclasm to preservation: Pentecostal missionaries and colonial science in Belgian Congo
  • Tom Smith: Protestant missionaries, islanders, and the cosmology of time in nineteenth-century Polynesia
13.00 - 14.00


14.00 - 14.45


  • Lauren Minsky (NYU, Abu Dhabi): Commerce and the cult of Khizr: foregrounding a longue durée sacred geography of healing in the wider Indian Ocean world
14.45 - 15.30


  • Arthur Asseraf (Oxford): How do you solve a problem like Algeria? Colonistics, demographics and the science of settling, 1830-1962
  • Maziyar GhiabiNarcotic Iran: medicine, consumption and abuse in modern Iranian history
15.30 - 16.00

Coffee break

16.00 - 16.45


  • David Lambert (Warwick University): Mastering the Niger: James MacQueen's African geography and the struggle over Atlantic slavery