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"The Unhappy Captives”: Science, Circulations, and the Creation of an Orangutan Crisis in Sumatra, 1910-1940

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Abstract:

Despite extensive research by historians on precolonial and colonial northern Sumatra, little is known about the history of the mountainous interior in and around present-day Gunung Leuser National Park, one of the largest tropical reserves in the world. Scholars have instead focused on coastal geographies, describing the rise and fall of Sultanates, relations with regional and global powers, agricultural development, labor, trade, religion, and violence. This study uncovers a different story of northern Sumatra by exploring an environmental history of the interior, hereafter referred to as Leuser. Leuser has historically been characterized as terra incognita, a tropical Garden of Eden, and a space cut off from civilization by steep, inaccessible mountains and forests. The interior of northern Sumatra, however, has long been connected to global flows of knowledge and commerce, playing an important role in capitalism, science, and the international nature protection movement. This study examines the social forces and networks that shaped scientific knowledge and authority about Leuser and influenced the governance of land, people, and nonhuman species. I argue that two factors shaped the history of land acquisition and management in Leuser since the start of the twentieth century: 1) The production of scientific knowledge and, 2) The global circulation of Sumatran species, especially orangutans. These two factors have a dialectical relationship between epistemology and materiality. Some scientists, especially in zoos and laboratories, could only know Leuser from the fauna who were shipped around the globe. On the contrary, the mass arrival of Sumatran orangutans in Europe led to fears of extinction among other scientists, including primatologists and nature protection advocates, causing them to propose legislation strictly regulating the capture and trade of species. The heart of this essay interrogates the production of an environmental crisis, stemming from the orangutan trade in the 1920s and 30s.
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Name: ASEH Annual Conference
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http://aseh.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1171016_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Minarchek, Matthew. ""The Unhappy Captives”: Science, Circulations, and the Creation of an Orangutan Crisis in Sumatra, 1910-1940" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASEH Annual Conference, Drake Hotel, Chicago, IL, <Not Available>. 2018-01-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1171016_index.html>

APA Citation:

Minarchek, M. ""The Unhappy Captives”: Science, Circulations, and the Creation of an Orangutan Crisis in Sumatra, 1910-1940" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASEH Annual Conference, Drake Hotel, Chicago, IL <Not Available>. 2018-01-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1171016_index.html

Publication Type: Panel Paper
Abstract: Despite extensive research by historians on precolonial and colonial northern Sumatra, little is known about the history of the mountainous interior in and around present-day Gunung Leuser National Park, one of the largest tropical reserves in the world. Scholars have instead focused on coastal geographies, describing the rise and fall of Sultanates, relations with regional and global powers, agricultural development, labor, trade, religion, and violence. This study uncovers a different story of northern Sumatra by exploring an environmental history of the interior, hereafter referred to as Leuser. Leuser has historically been characterized as terra incognita, a tropical Garden of Eden, and a space cut off from civilization by steep, inaccessible mountains and forests. The interior of northern Sumatra, however, has long been connected to global flows of knowledge and commerce, playing an important role in capitalism, science, and the international nature protection movement. This study examines the social forces and networks that shaped scientific knowledge and authority about Leuser and influenced the governance of land, people, and nonhuman species. I argue that two factors shaped the history of land acquisition and management in Leuser since the start of the twentieth century: 1) The production of scientific knowledge and, 2) The global circulation of Sumatran species, especially orangutans. These two factors have a dialectical relationship between epistemology and materiality. Some scientists, especially in zoos and laboratories, could only know Leuser from the fauna who were shipped around the globe. On the contrary, the mass arrival of Sumatran orangutans in Europe led to fears of extinction among other scientists, including primatologists and nature protection advocates, causing them to propose legislation strictly regulating the capture and trade of species. The heart of this essay interrogates the production of an environmental crisis, stemming from the orangutan trade in the 1920s and 30s.


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