Special issue: Science and Islands in Indo-Pacific Worlds

The December BJHS issue will take us to the distant islands and waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The editors Sebestian Kroupa, Stephanie Mawson and Dorit Brixius open with a conceptualisation of the Indo-Pacific, its islands and their place within the history of science. Following the introduction, the five contributions reveal that Indo-Pacific islands present a remarkable combination of socio-political circumstances, which speak to themes central to the history of science. Starting off in the seventeenth-century Dutch East Indies, Genie Yoo explores the encounters of the naturalist Georg Everhard Rumphius with local informants from across the social and cultural spectrum. By tracing the knowledge networks at play within the Maluku archipelago, Yoo illustrates the role of go-betweens in the creation of European knowledge. Spice Islands remain in focus in Dorit Brixius’ contribution, which examines the French efforts to transplant nutmeg to their dominion Mauritius in the mid-eighteenth century. Navigating a medley of Malukan, slave and European knowledge, Brixius portrays creolisation of knowledge as a critical aspect of French colonial botany. Staying in Mauritius but travelling some hundred years forward, Martin Mahony investigates how tropical storms were imagined, theorised and anticipated by British meteorologists. Mahony explores how the island’s material, economic and cultural geographies combined to produce spaces of weather observation defined by both connection and disconnection – the latter to be overcome not only by infrastructure but by human imagination. Still in the late nineteenth century, Geoff Bil delves into British botanical explorations in New Zealand. Focusing on European treatments of indigenous plant names, Bil traces their shift from instruments of botanical fieldwork to currency in anthropological studies, used to develop theories of European superiority. Finally, Katie Parker charts the British efforts to capture the mythical Pepys Island on a map and demonstrates the integral role of islands as conceptual spaces within the European endeavour to map the globe and extend their control over the Pacific. The issue closes with an Epilogue from Pablo Gómez and Sujit Sivasundaram, in which they echo the issue’s call for new directions in global histories of science, with knowledge production within island spaces at their heart.

Image: A Bugis nautical chart of the Malay world, made of cowhide and dated with Muslim era year A.H. 1231 (1816 CE). It records, among other, sea depths and place names, as well as marking Dutch spaces of colonisation with flags. Its exaggerated features indicate how the Bugis navigators – some of the most famed pilots of the Malay world – used mountains and other topographical features in navigation. © Kaart: VIII.C.a.2, Special Collections, Utrecht University Library