This dissertation is a study of the social relations that authorized knowledge in nineteenth century Siam (Thailand), which played host to the interaction of two cosmopolitan knowledge regimes: western science and indigenous knowledge. Previous studies of 'the arrival of western science' in Siam have ignored the role of religious thought in both knowledge regimes, and the vitality of indigenous knowledge. This historical study will focus on three seminal figures and their interactions with western forms of scientific knowledge. It will situate these actors within the western and Buddhist knowledge networks that coincided in early modern Siam. The study will then trace the social life of western scientific knowledge in Siamese institutions, implying a radical redefinition of the notion of secularization in Siamese history.
The proposer will undertake five months of archival research in Bangkok, Thailand in order to forge connections between global narratives of the spread of modern science and the socially and culturally contingent processes of its localization. Archival sources to be explored include the personal library holdings of elite Siamese figures, Siamese and Pali language treatises pertaining to science and medicine, and records of Buddhist monastic correspondence and exchange across South and Southeast Asia.
By integrating theoretical perspectives from science studies with the historical and cultural purview of area studies scholarship, this research project will bring under-utilized Southeast Asian historical materials to the attention of science studies scholars and likewise expose area studies scholars to the central concerns of science studies scholarship. It will also make important contributions to post-colonial studies scholarship on topics ranging from secularization to issues of local knowledge, including proprietary knowledge in indigenous medical traditions