Experimental Stations and Plantation Economies in Sumatra: Epistemologies of Colonial Damage

Worker on a tabacco plantation in Sumatra

Dissertation Project 
Alexander Silaen

In my dissertation, I focus on the colonial system of experimental stations in Indonesia in the 1880s to 1930s of the Gregorian calendar. More specifically, I analyze colo nial research on tobacco plantations and the insects that were part of this imported ecology. The latter were classified as "pests", highlighting the destructive effects they manifested at the colonial intersection of entomological, agrochemical, botanical, tropical agricultural, and forestry-related knowledge production. The project analyzes the practices of sustaining colonial plantation economies and the resistances of non-human and human actors through the epistemological category of “damage”. It draws on current approaches in colonial history, such as subaltern studies, and animal studies.

In my work, I will address questions regarding how and by whom damage is conceptualized, which dimensions of an ecosystem are factored into colonial damage calculations, and how these calculated damages can be interpreted as forms of resistance. My sources include local Sumatran newspapers written in different languages such as Batak, Malay. They used various genres such as bulletins, manuals, letters, pamphlets, so-called 'pest boards' (Schädlingstafeln), journals and photo albums. Another major source are the scientific journals of the research stations.

Furthermore, various language archives are incorporated into the work. The goal of the dissertation is to present ecological histories that challenge anthropocentrism, contributing to a broader understanding of plantation economies, the scientification of colonial practices, and histories of resistance.

Squeezing Knowledge out of Rocks. Paper Squeezes between Scholarship and Political Activism

Paper Squese showing Jewish inscriptions from an Expedition to Southern Arabia

Dissertation Project 
Ann-Catherine Pielenhofer

The project centers on »paper squeezes«: three-dimensional, paper copies of historic stone inscriptions, enabling their epigraphic study independent of place. Western European Semitic philology in the long 19th century relied on squeezes as evidentiary objects. They provided a geographically distanced basis for studying the histories of Semitic languages and of the populations that used them. A wide variety of actors were involved in the production of squeezes during research expeditions to the Near East. The project explores the scientific and sociopolitical alliances between them and asks about their constitutive role for the emergence of the paper replicas. It inquires into ever-shifting constellations of interests that Western travelers used and established to produce squeezes as resources of knowledge. Through these relationships, it shows how local and non-local hegemonic practices of domination and various non-hegemonic strategies are intertwined with the emergence of knowledge.

The World(s) of Global Modeling (1972-1989)

Aus: Wechselwirkung Nr. 44 (1990)


Dissertation Project Markus Elias Ramsauer

The 1972 publication of the The Limits to Growth induced by the Club of Rome illustrated the possibilities of computer-based modelling in terms of interdisciplinarity, complexity and ­not least: scale. The report and its pessimistic findings about the global future were met with enormous public attention and harsh criticism alike. The reaction from the scientific field included the establishment of a community of “global modelers” fashioning follow-up models to the initial WORLD3, which served as basis for the Limits. Due to its close ties with the Club of Rome, the 1972 founded Institute for Applied System Analyses (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria came to be an institutional clearing house for the emerging global modeling community. From 1974 until 1981 IIASA hosted nine symposia where the most advanced multi-sectoral global models were presented and discussed prior to publication.

For the dissertation project, these conferences serve as point of departure for a political-epistemologically oriented analysis of the global modeling activities. Relying on conference proceedings, archival sources from the respective institutions, newspapers and review publications as well as the models’ technical reports, this project aims at presenting early attempts in global modeling as a politico-scientific endeavor on multiple scales. This includes analyzing the Denkstil and rhetoric of the new scientific field as well as the reflections on “the political” as part of the models. The project also addresses questions on the role of data and the representation of the Global South. A further important aspect in the politics of global modeling concerns the various strategies with which the modelers aimed at making their models matter in respect to public attention and policy impact.

As part of the Volkswagen foundation sponsored project “How is Artificial Intelligence Changing Science?”

Experimentelle Erdgeschichtsschreibung

Operative Zeitlichkeit in der Geschichte der numerischen Klimasimulation und Paläoklimatologie. Dissertation Project by Christoph Rosol


Forsteinrichtungskarten und Waldnutzungspraktiken zwischen Nachhaltigkeit und Holzfrevel (1760–1860). Wir gratulieren Lisa Cronjäger zur 2022 abgeschlossenen Dissertation an der Universität Basel!