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Title: The Arts of the Microbial World: Biosynthetic Technologies in Twentieth-Century Japan
Authors: Lee, Victoria
Advisors: Creager, Angela N. H.
Elman, Benjamin A.
Contributors: History of Science Department
Keywords: Business
Modern Japan
Technology and Craft
Subjects: History of science
Asian history
Issue Date: 2014
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation explores how Japanese scientists and skilled workers sought to use microbes' natural processes to create new forms and products of life. Processes of microbial biosynthesis were ubiquitous in Japan, from miso-making in the kitchen, to soy-sauce mold starters and vitamins, and to monosodium glutamate and statins in which Japan led globally as an innovator and that scientists called "gifts from microorganisms." In traditional brewing houses and in the food, fine chemical and pharmaceutical industries across the country, scientists and skilled workers came to study microbial life and to tinker with life as fermentation phenomena. Such practices destabilize our notions of life at the edge of our current knowledge. I trace the institutions and technologies of fermentation and look for points of connection from the turn of the twentieth century to the early 1960s. This dissertation seeks to understand what it means to study modern science in a non-Western context. When we look through the eyes and hands of Japanese scientists and technologists, we see categories of investigation that were distinctive to that society and which owed their existence at least partly to premodern practices of fermentation. By focusing on the significance of knowledge within traditional and small-scale industries, this dissertation demonstrates that craft knowledge lay at the heart of Japanese scientific and technological contributions in the late twentieth century. The study also presents a view of how a non-Western society understood life as technological potentiality, focusing on what living things can do or be asked to do. It offers a historical point of comparison as scientists increasingly seek to know life by intervening in and recreating life, as notions of biological determinism soften with new awareness of interactions between ourselves, other organisms, and the environment, and as the microbial world takes a new centrality in debates on biotechnologies. Finally, this dissertation contributes to our understanding of ecologies in Japanese cultural life, economic organization, and moral consciousness. Through an ecological vision of national self-sufficiency that dominated fermentation science, it explores how broader debates on environmental management impacted material culture at the level of food, resources, and medicine.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:History of Science

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