In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • From Needham to EASTS, or Why History Matters
  • Francesca Bray (bio)

In spring 2006 I received an intriguing invitation. With support from the National Science Council of Taiwan, Fu Daiwie was about to launch a new journal, EASTS. He and his colleagues asked me to join the editorial board and to attend an inaugural international conference in Taipei that summer. It was an irresistible offer and of course I accepted immediately!

Why did I find the EASTS project so attractive? One reason was that it was based in Taiwan. Over the previous years I had come to consider Taiwan one of the most exciting centers for historical or STS debate. I was struck by the vitality, openness, and acumen of discussions, whether they were about historical method or geopolitics. I had already enjoyed a fruitful collaboration with Daiwie Fu on a big historical project (Chemla et al. 2001). Chu Pingyi, soon to be an associate editor of EASTS, was an old friend. I was impressed by the prominence of feminist scholars like Chia-Ling Wu and Yi-Ping Lin in shaping STS agendas in Taiwan. I also loved the philosophy of Taiwan colleagues that good food and fun are essential ingredients of sustained intellectual debate and network building.

But perhaps the most compelling attraction of the EASTS project for me was how it breathed new life into STS by insisting on decentering or provincializing the West. The journal was expressly intended to challenge conventional STS frameworks and their implicit or explicit periodizations, geographies, and models of circulation; thus, deep history and local genealogies of knowledge and practice were an integral element of EASTS scholarship from its inception. I was excited to see the journal’s agenda giving contemporary expression to critiques of Eurocentric knowledge hierarchies and periodizations that first engaged me at Joseph Needham’s East Asian History of Science Library (EAHSL), where I began my research career in the early 1970s.

So how did Needham’s Science and Civilisation in China (SCC) project relate to the radical critiques that were then and have remained the raison d’être of STS, encouraging it to speak truth to power, sustaining its reflexivity, and keeping it “open-ended and never-at-rest-with-itself” (Mikami and Woolgar 2018: 315)? I thank Wen-Hua Kuo for giving me the opportunity, in this informal history, to trace some of the connections [End Page 317] between the denizens of EAHSL and the projects in which they were engaged some forty years ago, and the current intellectual ambitions and social networks of EASTS.

Needham’s charismatic personality, his outspoken views on the politics of science and its history, the exotic fascination of SCC and the unique richness of Needham’s research collection attracted a constant stream of visitors to EAHSL. Some came just once, to take tea with the Great Man; others stayed for weeks, months, or years. Those who stayed longer or visited regularly included scholars working on their own projects, and Needham’s collaborators, to whom he had entrusted sections or volumes of SCC. Needham himself would appear for the daily ritual of afternoon tea, where conversation, not discussion, was the rule. But elsewhere there were discussions and arguments aplenty. We had a kind of coffeehouse club, meeting for morning coffee (proper filter coffee, not instant) and a sandwich lunch to discuss all kinds of issues that took the Needham project and the problems it raised as a springboard.

I think it is no coincidence that a number of people who were regular visitors to EAHSL in the 1970s and 1980s subsequently became regular contributors to EASTS, among them Shigeru Nakayama, Yung Sik Kim, Judith Farquhar, Karine Chemla, and myself.1 Back then we read the works of Barry Barnes and other SSK (sociology of scientific knowledge) luminaries and discussed the implications for our own projects. If STS consists in “understanding developments in science, technology of medicine in relation to their social contexts,”2 or “seeking to answer the big questions about how societies both influence and are influenced by science, medicine and technology,”3 then almost everyone at EAHSL was already an STSer.

Yet recognition was not mutual; the flow of influence was...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1875-2152
Print ISSN
1875-2160
Pages
pp. 317-321
Launched on MUSE
2019-06-19
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived 2021
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