February 5, 2020 | Lukas Rieppel on Locating the Central Asiatic Expedition

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

12noon-1:30pm Humanities 210

4:00-5:30pm SJRC Common Room, Oakes 231

Join the SJRC and the Center for Cultural Studies for a noon talk and an evening book discussion with Lukas Rieppel.

During the 1920s, a large team of researchers from the New York natural history museum spent nearly a decade exploring the Gobi Desert in Central Asia under the leadership of Roy Chapman Andrews. Their widely publicized goal was to uncover fossil evidence in support of a racially motivated theory promulgated by the Museum’s president, Henry Fairfield Osborn, which located the evolutionary origins of modern humanity in Asia rather than Africa. While Andrews failed to find evidence that Central Asia served as the “cradle of mankind,” his expedition achieved both popular and scientific acclaim for the discovery of fossilized dinosaur eggs. However, when the Guomindang general Chiang Kai-sheck’s military troops arrived in Beijing during the summer of 1928, the expedition was expelled from their base of operations in northern China. Much of the controversy stemmed from a disagreement about specimens. Whereas Chinese intellectuals associated with the nationalist government accused American paleontologists of plundering ancient treasures from Central Asia, Andrews argued that because dinosaurs predated the creation of China, they belonged equally to all mankind. In this talk, Rieppel hopes to use the ensuing debate about whether science ought to be understood as a cosmopolitan endeavor or a technique of imperial expropriation to motivate a critical discussion about the language of “knowledge in transit,” “circulation,” and “circuits of exchange” in recent attempts to produce a less parochial account of knowledge production in a global context.

Lukas Rieppel works at the intersection of the history of science and the history of capitalism, focusing especially on the life, earth, and environmental sciences in nineteenth and early twentieth century North America. Rieppel recently published book Assembling the Dinosaur: Fossil Hunters, Tycoons, and the Making of a Spectacle (Harvard University Press, 2019), a lively account tracing how dinosaurs became a symbol of American power and prosperity and gripped the popular imagination during the Gilded Age, when their fossil remains were collected and displayed in museums financed by North America’s wealthiest business tycoons. Rieppel co-edited a recent issue of the journal Osiris (with Eugenia Lean & William Deringer) on the theme of “Science & Capitalism: Entangled Histories,” and he has written several essays about fossils, museums, and markets. Rieppel is a David and Michelle Ebersman Assistant Professor of History at Brown University. More information at: https://sites.google.com/view/lukasrieppel/

Posted in Past Events.