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Situating the History of Science: Dialogues with Joseph Needham by S.

Irfan Habib; Dhruv

Review by: Francesca Bray
Technology and Culture, Vol. 45, No. 1 (Jan., 2004), pp. 173-175
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press and the Society for the History of Technology
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from specimens found around severalUmbrian villages,the remnantsof

Cesi's unfinished book on fossils and fossil woods. He notes that these
imageswere"thefirst extensiveset of field drawingsof a fossil site or set of
geologicalfeaturesever made"(p. 310).
Almost as if reflectingthe multiplicityand particularityof the natural
world that so defied the valiant Lincean attempt at classification,Freed-
berg'swork at times seems overwhelminglydetailed.And, perhapsinspired
by Cesi'sclassificationtables ("PhytosophicalTables"),he providesa table
of his own ("Headings")at its end. While Freedberg'sdiscussionof the ten-
sion betweendescriptiveparticularityand classificatoryorderingis illumi-
nating, I find his effort to hang this on a structureof Foucauldianepis-
temes- and his relatedeffort to place the Linceans,particularlyCesi, on a
continuum toward"modern science"- less convincing and less heuristi-
cally useful. However,this is a minor quibble concerninga study that will
be of lastingimportanceand, becauseof its richnessand depth,will also be
the startingpoint for much furtherscholarship.

Dr. Long's most recent publication is a booklet in the SHOT/ AHA series, Technology and Soci-
ety in the Medieval Centuries: Byzantium, Islam, and the West, 500-1300. She is at work on a
book on engineering, knowledge, and power in late-sixteenth-century Rome, and is presently
residing on the Janiculum, a few steps from the spot where Galileo demonstrated his telescope
to Federico Cesi and the Jesuits.

Situating the History of Science: Dialogues with Joseph Needham.

Edited by S. Irfan Habib and Dhruv Raina. New Delhi: Oxford University Press,
1999; paperback reprint, 2001. Pp. x+358. £1 1.99.

In the 1930s,just a few yearsafterBronislawMalinowskichallengedthe in-

tellectualarroganceof Westernersby suggestingthat savagescould and did
do science (albeit in a "rudimentary"form), JosephNeedham took what
the contributorsto Situatingthe Historyof Sciencevariouslycall epistemo-
logicalegalitarianismor cognitivejusticea giant step further.He decidedto
attackWesternsupremacismthrough one of its centralpillars,the history
of science,by demonstratingthat modern science was not the product of
uniqueWesterngenius.The mission that Needham set for himself as a his-
torianwas to illustratehow riversof knowledgefrom all aroundthe world
had flowed into the sea that is modern Science.As a practicingscientist
active in internationalscience policy,he hoped that redressingthe histori-
cal balancewould also encouragea more equitabledistributionof scientific
resourcesamong modern nations.
As befits the work of a biologist, NeedhanVsmonumental Scienceand
Civilisationin Chinais a study of nurturanceand growth,flows and adap-
tations.It chartsnot only the emergenceand developmentof forms of nat-


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ural knowledgein local context,but influencesand transmissionsbetween

societies.It notablyhighlightsthe Europeandebt to concepts,theories,and
artifactsfrom all over Eurasia.Yet Needham also had to wrestle with the
realitythat it was in Europe,not in China,that the scientificand industrial
revolutionsoccurred.If such deep-rooted institutional factors as Confu-
cian aversionto experiment or bureaucraticfeudalismwere to blame, as
Needhamtended to argue,then arewe not backwherewe started,explain-
2004 ing differencethrough just another form of cultural essentialism?What
VOL. 45 alternativemodels of flow, of production and reception,of social context
and intellectualdynamicmight get us beyond this apparentimpasse?
Irfan Habib and Drhuv Raina'sexciting and enrichingvolume brings
togetherfivescholarsfrom India,five from France,and one each from Can-
ada,Sweden,and Britain,to discussNeedham'slegacyin the light of subse-
quent developmentsin the history of science. The predominantlyIndian
and Frenchperspectivesoffer a salutory reminder of how parochialand
narrowlyprofessionalizedmost Anglo-Saxonhistory of science remainsin
its concernsand cast of characters.It is refreshingto see the stagerepeopled
with a truly international cast, the better to understand their political,
philosophical,and ethical- as well as historicist- agendas.
GregoryBlue connects Needham'schoices as a historian to the wider
frameworkof socialistand internationalistscienceof the 1930s, 1940s,and
1950s.PatrickPetitjeanoffersa fascinatingaccountof UNESCO'sScientific
and CulturalHistoryof Mankindproject,originallyframedas a resolutely
anti-Eurocentric enterprise,in whosedevelopmentNeedham,LucienFebvre,
and the BrazilianphysiologistMiguel Ozorio de Almeidaplayedkey roles.
The essaysby CatherineJamiand by Rainaand Habib situateScienceand
Civilisationin the broaderframeworkof Chineseand of Indianhistoryof sci-
ence from about 1900 to the present,highlightingthe fact that Scienceand
Civilisationworksbetteras an inspirationalmantrathanas a practicalmodel.
Articlesby RomilaThapar,AantElzinga,SteveFuller,ShivVisvanathan,
KarinChemla,Michel Paty,and K. Subramanianall focus on the theoreti-
cal challengesof a truly humanist,universal"worldhistoryof science":the
definition of workable social entities and the conceptualizationof their
interactionsacross time and space; the virtues of studying ensembles of
knowledgewithin a period versus the presentisttactic of tracingback the
lineages of one branch of modern science; the pitfalls of navigatingbe-
tween historicalspecificityand culturalrelativism;the trickyrelationsbe-
tween internationalistand nationalisthistory of science;and the question
of whethercomparativehistory (the "Needhamquestion")can ever escape
the trapsof entrenchedintellectualhierarchies.All these issues are relevant
to the history of technology as well as science, yet curiously- given the
(much criticized)prominencethat Needhamaccordedto technologyin his
analyses- Subramanianis the only author to argue for integratingtech-
nology into the universalhistory of science.
Needham believed that a more thorough understanding of non-


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Westernscientifictraditionswould drawattentionto the hidden valuesand

inherent inequities of modern science and suggest alternativeethical per-
spectives.This has yet to happen,and Habiband Raina'scollectionreminds
us how far we are still from cognitivejustice even in the hypercriticaland
reflexivedisciplineof history of science.
Dr. Bray, a professor in the Department of Anthropology, University of California at Santa
Barbara, worked on the Needham project for several years and is the author of Science and
Civilisation in China, volume 7, part 2, Agriculture.

Mapping Early Modern Japan: Space, Place, and Culture in

the Tokugawa Period, 1603-1868.

By MarciaYonemoto.Berkeley:Universityof CaliforniaPress,2003.
Pp. xv+234. $49.95.

This book is "ahistory of mapping as an idea,"not a cartographichistory,

MarciaYonemotowarns us at the outset. Her intent is to identify"theelu-
sive processesby which people came to name, to know,and to interpretthe
naturaland human worlds in which they lived"(pp. 1-2). Her more spe-
cific objectiveis to capturethe Tokugawageographicconsciousnessor spa-
tial sensibilitiesas they are representedin maps as well as texts, especially
travelaccounts,both realand imaginary.Yonemotoaims to show how writ-
ers, mapmakers,and artists helped shape the Japanesemapping of place
and its relationshipwith identity and culture.
Early Japanesemaps were patterned after Chinese cadastral maps.
Then, in the late sixteenth century,missionariesintroducedWestern-style
maps.The mapmakingthatbecamea common governmentpracticebegin-
ning in the earlyTokugawaperiod combined characteristicsof both styles.
When the official maps were commerciallyreproduced,they underwent
continual and numerous innovations.A thriving printing and publishing
industrymade them plentifulby the earlyeighteenthcentury.But this con-
ventionalcartographicenterpriseis only the startingpoint for Yonemoto's
book. Her emphasisis on the travelnarrativesthat translatedmappinginto
a literaryand imaginativeprocess- or a "geosophy," as she wishes to call it.
The initialliterarytravelerswere governmentofficials.Then, duringthe
Tokugawaperiod,in additionto samurai,daimyothemselvestraveledregu-
larlyas the Shogunaterequiredthem to divide their time equallybetween
theirhome domainsand Edo (Tokyo),the capital.Some of these high-rank-
ing travelerskeptdiaries.Later,as theywerejoinedby lesselitetravelers,travel
writingsbecamemore diversified.In these writings,Yonemotodiscernstwo
modes of mapping.The first,from the mid-seventeenthcenturyto the early
eighteenth,was an annotativemode thatsoughta spatialorderin the human
and naturalworldand emphasizeddirectobservation.The second,from the
mid-eighteenthcentury through the early nineteenth,was an embellished


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