Between universalism and regionalism: Universal systematics from imperial Japan

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Historiographic discussions of the universality and regionality of science have to date focused on European cases for making regional science universal. This paper presents a new perspective by moving beyond European origins and illuminating a non-European scientist's engagement with the universality and regionality of science. It will examine the case of the Japanese botanist Nakai Takenoshin (1882-1952), an internationally recognized authority on Korean flora based at Tokyo Imperial University. Serving on the International Committee on Botanical Nomenclature in 1926, Nakai endorsed and acted upon European claims of universal science, whilst simultaneously unsettling them with his regionally shaped systematics. Eventually he came to promote his own systematics, built regionally on Korean flora, as the new universal. By analysing his shifting claims in relation to those of other European and non-European botanists, this paper makes two arguments. First, universalism and regionalism were not contradictory foundations of scientific practice but useful tools used by this non-European botanist in maintaining his scientific authority as a representative Japanese systematist. Second, his claims to universality and regionalism were both imperially charged. An imperially monopolized study of Korean plants left a regional imprint on Nakai's systematics. In order to maintain his scientific authority beyond its region of origin he had to assert either the expanding regionalism of 'East Asia' or universalism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)661-684
Number of pages24
JournalBritish Journal for the History of Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2015

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Copyright © 2015 British Society for the History of Science.


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