Final Public Oral Exam: Jin Hee Yoo

Final Public Oral Examination
Event date: 
September 27, 2022 - 2:30pm
Seminar Series: 
Final Public Oral Exam

Mediating Islands: Ambon Across the Ages


Michael Laffan, co-adviser
Keith Wailoo, co-adviser
Anthony Grafton
Eric Tagliacozzo, Cornell University
Hendrik Maier, University of California, Riverside

Location: Julis Romo Rabinowitz 301 (RSVP required) and Zoom

Room capacity: 18


This dissertation situates one of the most important spice islands in Indonesia—Ambon—at the center of multi-scalar processes of information exchange. It traces how natural, medical, and religious knowledge collected on the island were mediated, and thereby transformed, from the mid-seventeenth to the early-twentieth century. Here, mediation is understood both as a momentary brokering across cultures and as an enduring, multi-layered historical process. This work examines these historical layers of transmission, translation, and circulation by tracing the changing dynamics of information and power from early modern to modern times. It explores how European and indigenous interpretations about Ambon’s natural world changed across shifting boundaries of science, medicine, and religion; how early modern texts came to inform modern colonial activities; and how modern colonial authorities and the indigenous elite came to understand the island’s past. Reading for convergences and divergences across European and Asian sources, I highlight the transformative influence of cross-cultural exchange on both European and indigenous knowledge formations. While these two strands of knowledge informed each other over time, they did not neatly converge. Rather, they spiraled into form over time, like a double helix, connected laterally by innumerable threads of mediation that held them together and apart, in constant tension.

The first strand follows the life and works of a Dutch East India Company administrator and naturalist named Georg Everhard Rumphius (1627-1702). His seventeenth-century texts underwent multiple lines of mediation, from the point of collection on the island to their circulation to Europe. Europe, however, was not the endpoint of this story; the re-circulation of his printed works influenced colonial activities well into the twentieth century. The second historical strand traces indigenous collections to and from Ambon across the archipelago. It examines the history of materia medica and religious practice among local Muslim populations and highlights the manuscript transmission of recipes, tracing how they circulated through inter-island networks. It demonstrates how Muslim communities on an island best known for the spice trade practiced medicine and continued to be a part of the rich, interconnected fabric of the Jawi ecumene from early modern to modern times.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam. Questions? Please contact Lee Horinko.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.