337 Cohen Hall
Lukas Rieppel, Brown University
Locating the Central Asiatic Expedition
During the 1920s, a large team of researchers from the New York natural history museum spent nearly a decade exploring the Gobi Desert in Central Asia under the leadership of Roy Chapman Andrews. Their widely publicized goal was to uncover fossil evidence in support of a racially motivated theory promulgated by the Museum’s president, Henry Fairfield Osborn, which located the evolutionary origins of modern humanity in Asia rather than Africa. But despite Andrews’ best efforts, his team failed to find any evidence that Central Asia served as the “cradle of mankind.” Still, the venture achieved both popular and scientific acclaim, primarily for the first recorded discovery of fossilized dinosaur eggs. However, once Chiang Kai-sheck’s military troops succeeded in bringing northern China under the control of a recently formed KMT government, the expedition was expelled from their base of operations in Beijing. Much of the controversy stemmed from a disagreement about specimens. Whereas Chinese intellectuals associated with the KMT government accused American paleontologists of plundering ancient treasures from Central Asia, Andrews argued that because dinosaurs predated the creation of China, they belonged equally to all mankind. In my presentation, I hope to use the ensuing debate about whether science ought to be understood as an essentially cosmopolitan endeavor or as a technique of imperial expropriation to motivate a critical discussion about the language of “knowledge in transit,” “circulation,” and “circuits of exchange” in recent attempts to produce a less parochial account of knowledge production in a global context.