Studia Historica Septentrionalia 73


Olavi K. Fält, Increasingly global and networked science – Yokohama as a stage for Western science in the early 1870s world

One of the main aspects in the development of globalization has been the harmonization of the principles of scientific thinking, and its impact on the increase in worldwide mutual dependence. This article examines using globalization and network theories, the Japanese city of Yokohama as an example of Western scientific influence in the early 1870s world. This period was chosen because Western cultural hegemony had reached Japan just before it. The Western community that was born in Yokohama in 1859 as a consequence had already created established activities in different cultural areas, for example in science.

First the article discusses the position of Western culture with respect to Eastern cultures in the increasingly global world, then Yokohama’s development into a new part of the Western cultural network, and finally science as a promoter of Western cultural hegemony, where the years 1872 and 1874 in the activity of the Asiatic Society of Japan are chosen for particular scrutiny. The scientific activities of Westerners in Japan are analyzed with the help of news printed in the Western newspapers that appeared there.

Presentations kept at monthly meetings of the Asiatic Society of Japan were quite clearly divided into different topic areas. Depictions of travels were important because Japan outside the agreement harbors was completely unknown to most. Another topic area was related to familiarization with Japan’s culture. Japanese language, religion, history, customs, and practices as a new field of research were interesting from the viewpoint of Western science. The third large category was comprised of topics related in one way or other to the development of Japan according to the Western model, such as metallurgy, meteorology, botany, hydrographical surveying, and banking. In these topics the Westerners willingly acted as teachers, not in the least to prove their own cultural superiority. The fourth topic area dealt with the most common new scientific questions, such as optics, Herbert Spencer’s theories, and current phenomena in astronomy.
In all, Yokohama’s new position as a part of the Western cultural network, the establishment and activity of the Asiatic Society of Japan, and the scientific presentations that were held are an excellent example of how Western scientific hegemony advanced and spread its network in the 1800s, in this case with the British Royal Asiatic Society functioning as its center. Western science was used to first take over the new, unknown culture by linking it to the global scientific network. After that it was used as a fresh scientific viewpoint, field, and material in the promotion and application of scientific knowledge. At the same time it communicated the transcendence and universal applicability of the Western conception of science.

Takaisin Studia Historica Septentrionalia 73