Category: General

Alchemy, Metallurgy, and Modern Chemistry in Post-Medieval Europe: An Intersection of Archaeological Science and the History of Science

What is the first image conjured up in your mind by the word “alchemy”? Influenced by popular culture, it is tempting to picture: somewhere in Renaissance Europe, in a dark dungeon, groups of alchemists fiddling with crucibles over some “book of secrets,” on a quest for the philosophers’ stone, and in pursuit of “transmutation” (i.e. making gold). The exclusivity and secrecy behind alchemy seem to suggest alchemy was the opposite of enlightenment, progress, and modern science. However, there are increasing numbers of studies indicating otherwise (e.g. Martinón-Torres and Rehren, 2005; Martinón-Torres, 2012; Mongiatti, 2009; Veronesi et al., 2021). The practice of alchemy could be more scientific, methodical, and industrial than people have previously imagined. In fact, before 1753, the words “chemistry” and “alchemy” were synonymous (Martinón-Torres and Rehren, 2005). (read more...)

West African Migration: The Dangers of a Single Story

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie The Lagos-Abidjan corridor is one of the fastest-growing urban areas in Africa. It is also a migration route that connects mega-cities, peri-urban sprawl, market towns, and villages. For many people residing along the corridor, there are numerous opportunities to be had by jumping on a packed bus, crossing a land border, and tracking down local contacts. Everyday mobility along the Lagos-Abidjan corridor is a far cry from the tired tropes of African migration. Such tropes often feature trafficking, illegal migration, and perilous crossings of the Sahara and Mediterranean. This isn’t the full story—, in fact, it’s just a tiny part of it, as most migration in West Africa is regional. Indeed, the International Organisation for Migration (2015) reports that regional flows account for 84% of movements within West Africa. There is a false but predominant assumption that all sub-Saharan migrants are heading to Europe; one way to counter this is through telling more balanced stories about trans-local and regional migration. (read more...)

Coming Soon: The MultiRepository

This post introduces a new collaborative project coming soon to CASTAC: an archive of online platforms that highlights how researchers have utilized different communicative modes and media in qualitative research and creative work, including in journalism and the arts. Think about how you usually encounter a researcher’s findings, a journalist’s account of an important event, or news of an artist’s latest work. In the early 20th century, you would often do so by reading an article in a newspaper, magazine, book, or academic journal. And although these publications might include pictures, graphs, and cartoons, they often emphasized textual ways of conveying information and ideas. Nowadays, an increasing number of researchers, journalists, and artists use multiple media technologies—often digital—to conduct and publicize their work, including text, graphics, and video, among others. Using and combining broader arrays of communication technologies reflects current media practices, but it also gives researchers and other professionals (read more...)

Fetishes or Cyborgs? Religion as technology in the Afro-Atlantic space

(Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of the Thematic Series Data Swarms Revisited) Afro-Brazilian religions like Candomblé, Umbanda or Xangô, are a cluster of religious practices that originated mostly in West Africa, especially in Yorubaland (Nigeria and Benin), but also in Congo and Angola. Similar to other Afro-diasporic religions (i.e. Vodou in Haity and Santeria in Cuba), Candomblé shares many elements with West African traditional religious practices, like the names and characteristics of their deities (called orixás in Brazilian Portuguese and òrìṣà in Yoruba). These deities embody elements of the natural landscape and atmospheric phenomena that are regarded as personas with their own material and spiritual agency. However, in the whole Afro-Atlantic space the most important common trait is the presence fabricated objects. After a ritual procedure they become the bodies and the material manifestation of the deities themselves. These objects, often referred to as “fetishes,” represent the point of mediation between the material and the spiritual world (Meyer 2012: 15). Indeed, Western conception of materiality is often charged with moral implications, opposed to the pure and transcendent qualities of the spirit (Espírito Santo 2010). Conversely, in Afro-Atlantic religions, objects, elements and atmospheric phenomena are considered to be alive or to have a certain individuality, will or personality, in a way that the scientific Western thought would consider unacceptable. (read more...)

“Legibility by Invitation”: Rohingya Refugees and the Struggle for Political Recognition

Once, in mid-August 2018 in a café tucked away in Klang Valley, Malaysia, Husin, my Rohingya research collaborator, and I sat with Fatimah, a young Rohingya woman. As it was after eight in the evening, I asked if she was worried that she might be detained by the police. “Ah Kak, that’s because the police just want money… if you know how to talk, you don’t have to pay bribe,” Fatimah explained to me in Malay before continuing, “kalau mereka mau tangkap saya, jemputlah . Saya ada UN card, saya tak takut. ” (emphasis mine). For Fatimah and other Rohingya refugees I have met in Malaysia, the notion of invite extends to their desire to be seen not just as refugees, but as Rohingya refugees. (read more...)

Interdisciplinarity and Transdisciplinarity: Just Buzzwords?

What is the value of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary work in the current scientific-technological context? To what extent do collaborative practices present a changing setting for research in Europe but also in other countries? What can we learn from these practices from an anthropological perspective? (read more...)

Naming Species in Colombia’s Biodiverse Landscapes

There is a unique pair of rules on Sattins Island, in Ursula K. Le Guin’s world of Earthsea. This pair is called The Rules of Names and though these rules circulate among the villagers, they are taught to children by the schoolteacher. Names are allocated on Sattins Island based on a person’s physical characteristics or any other visible aspect of their way of life. The local wizard, for instance, is simply called “Mr. Underhill.” An old wizard known for his ineffective spells but still respected by the villagers, he lives in a cave under a hill and doesn’t enjoy visits. Mr. Underhill was in fact listening to the schoolteacher, Palani, when she was teaching the children about the Rules. Noting his presence, Palani found it instructive to call Mr. Underhill and use his case as evidence for the omnipresence of the Rules. (read more...)

Heritage, Memory, and Infrastructure

There are places and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided. Many are sites of war – Concord and Lexington, Appomattox, Gettysburg. Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character – Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral. Selma is such a place. In one afternoon 50 years ago, so much of our turbulent history – the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham; and the dream of a Baptist preacher – all that history met on this bridge. (President Barack Obama, March 2015) Standing on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on the fiftieth anniversary of the 1965 March to Montgomery, President Obama delivered these words to honor the traumatic history of Bloody Sunday. With “history me on this bridge,” the bridge stood as a sinister totem to a period of violence that Obama, as the first Black president, had seemingly redeemed, representing the promise of a new American nation that elected what it had once lynched. (read more...)