2 comments 22 July 2008

Tutorial essay under construction:

- Intro

The Dutch doctor and botanist Willem ten Rhijne (1647-1700) was employed by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and sent to Japan on request from the Japanese government. During his stay in Japan from 1674 to 1676, Ten Rhijne was requested to answer to numerous medical questions by Japanese translators on the island of Deshima, and he had to communicate his medical knowlegde to lords and physicians across Japan. Simultaneously, Ten Rhijne learned a great deal about Japanese medicine and natural history. He wrote one of the first European accounts on acupuncture and moxibustion, Dissertatio de Arthritide, Mantissa Schematica de Acupunctura (Dissertation on Arthritis, Schematic Mantissa on Acupuncture, 1683), which contained illustrations of acu-tracts for needles and moxa.

Within a context of trade, this account of Willen ten Rhijne shows the mutual enrichment of two cultures of knowledge: the Japanese initiative to learn European medical practices also led to the appropriation of Asian medical knowledge by European physicians. In contrast to Robert Boyle’s suggestion that it was thanks to European initiatives that they grew familiar with medicines from Asia, “in fact, however, much of what the Europeans learned not only came from other people, but originated as an indirect product of someone else’s agency.”

Because much historical work has already focussed on the European participation in this activity, more recent work emphasises the Asian initiative. For example, in “The Mindful Hand Goes to Japan,” Lissa Roberts makes a convincing case history for the active Japanese appropriation of European knowledge. By looking at a multi-layered context of appropriation and the general trends dominant in Japan at the time, a sophisticated picture is described of how European goods and ideas had contributed to an already ongoing discussion on observations, manipulation, and production. Although this investigation provides new insights in the history of medicine, its focus on Japan rather suggests a local approach instead of the proclaimed global approach. Moreover, the concept of “circulation of knowledge” seems to be lost in the one-way traffic of medical knowledge to Japan.

- Thematic Statement

This essay raises the question of transmission, as it investigates the formation, circulation, and transformation of Asian and European ideas, texts, instruments, and practices concerning medicine in the early-modern period. In opposition to the strict ideas of “the transfer of European science and technology to Japan” and “the Japanese consumption and appropriation of foreign products,” this essay argues that an exchange of medical expertise between Japan and the Dutch arose. In an attempt to answer the question how medical know-how and expertise could reach a level of cross-cultural understanding, this essay shows that this dissemination of knowledge occurred along a number of phases.

First, from the wish to explore, trade, and spread religion, the creation of contact zones between cultures would give opportunity for exchange of goods and interchange of ideas. How were the European and Asian medical traditions characterised by their unique circumstances and cultural values? At the same time, how did the existence of a certain common ground and understanding take shape?

Second, the either passive acquaintance with foreign knowledge to a lesser extent, or the more active appropriation of it to a greater extent, would stimulate the spread of medical expertise in both Asia and Europe. How did the processes of appropriation, translation, and specialisation affect the body of knowledge? After evaluating terms of ‘knowledge’ and ‘expertise,’ which can be widely interpreted and thus need thorough description, important is the terminology used to refer to the medical practices as well as the criteria of validity for an intellectual to be allowed to use this terminology. Moreover, once the two cultures of knowledge came into contact, how was the scientific content shaped by its circulation?

The third phase in the global dissemination of knowledge concerns the reception of the newly acquired information by the general public of both Asia and Europe, which is important to inquire into the extent to which mutual enrichment actually has taken place. A ‘successful’ case of cross-fertilisation appears to meet with a number of conditions: the embodiment of knowledge in books, objects, and other goods; the adoption of cultural values to a certain degree; and the foundation or institutionalisation of educational and medical practices to guarantee a continuation of the appropriated knowledge.


0 comments 06 July 2008

Gewina's new journal Studium Vol. 1 just got published. Inside four articles:

- Kennis in Meervoud. Voor een Ruimhartige Wetenschapsgeschiedenis ~ Raf de Bont & Kaat Wils
- Dubbelportret: Michel-Florent van Langren (ca. 1600-1675) als Ingenieur en Astronoom ~ Geert Vanpaemel
- Slaapmutsen en Ornamenten? Over het Bestuur van een Universiteit in de Negentiende Eeuw ~ Leen Dorsman
- Een Mooie Koe is een Goede Koe. Wetenschappers en Practici over de Nederlandse Rundveefokkerij, 1900-1950 ~ Bert Theunissen