Roundtable: Bridging the Local and the Global through the Histories of Science, Medicine, Technology, and the Environment

AHA Session 225
Sunday, January 5, 2014: 8:30 AM-10:30 AM
Columbia Hall 10 (Washington Hilton)
Julia Irwin, University of South Florida
Julia Irwin, University of South Florida

Session Abstract

Recent years have seen a proliferation in global and transnational histories. Scholars have moved beyond the nation-state as a primary category of analysis to consider the ways that people, commodities, and ideas traverse geographical borders. Global historians have demonstrated that power and culture do not flow in a one-way direction, unmediated; instead, they emphasize the reciprocal and hybrid nature of exchange. Thinking and practicing history transnationally has become as important to our disciplinary toolkit as the analytical lenses of race, class, and gender.

While we have recognized the value of studying worldly connections, this approach has its drawbacks. When concentrating on the global, there is often a tendency to diminish or overlook the importance of local actors and events. Successfully practicing global history, moreover, can prove difficult. As Isabel Hofmeyr wrote in a 2006 American Historical Review piece, tracing “the movement of objects, people, ideas, and texts” remains a “key methodological challenge in any practice of transnational history.”[1]

As the participants on this roundtable will contend, the histories of science, medicine, technology, and the environment are ideally suited to address these intellectual challenges. Each of the panelists specializes in a different region and explores its relationship to the wider world using one or more of these disciplinary lenses. Through our collective scholarship, we connect local lives and places to broader global processes. As we trace the movement of scientific knowledge and tools across borders, we examine the ways that local actors adapt and modify it to serve their particular needs and interests.

To discuss these themes in greater detail, we propose a roundtable on the practice of global history through a focus on science, medicine, technology, and the environment. Each of the four participants will first present brief papers based on their original research. Then, we will then open up the session to a discussion with the audience about the issues our work raises.

* Julia Irwin will serve as Chair and Commentator.

* Dora Vargha will examine the ways that vaccines and technologies of polio treatment (e.g. iron lungs) connected Cold War era Hungary to both the Soviet Union and the West.

* Michael Krysko will discuss radio broadcasts from the United States to Latin America and analyze what an international border crossing technology like radio shows us about international borders and national and global identities.

* Jenny Leigh Smith will examine agricultural experts from the United States and the Soviet Union who worked on rural development projects in the emergent postcolonial nations of Indonesia and Ghana.

* Prakash Kumar will discuss Seeds of Globalization and India’s Global Activists


Together, the panelists will show the importance of integrating the histories of science, medicine, technology, and the environment into the burgeoning field of global history.

[1] Isabel Hofmeyr, “AHR Conversation on Transnational History,” American Historical Review 111 (December 2006): 1440–64.

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