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Between universalism and regionalism: Nakai Takenoshin's research on colonial Korean plants and Japanese universal systematics

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This paper traces the scientific career of Nakai Takenoshin (1882-1952), a professor at Tokyo Imperial University, who, in 1926, became the sole non-Western member appointed to the International Committee on Botanical Nomenclature. With two aims, this paper delves into Nakai’s research on Korean plants, the base of his botanical career, in comparison with those of his European and non-European counterparts in botany. Firstly, it demonstrates how the contested botanizing in colonial Korea shaped Nakai’s systematics, characterized by attention to small morphological detail and his various claims to universal validity of his systematics. Secondly, through an analysis of these claims of universality, it seeks to broaden the ongoing discussion on the universality and regionality of science by shifting focus away from the European origin to this non-European end. To understand how the universality of European science seemed intact in the increasing emergence of regionally variant sciences, it discloses what this universality meant for non-European scientists like Nakai. For him, universalism and regionalism were not contradictory ideologies about scientific practice but were very useful tools to maintain his scientific career as the representative Japanese systematist. Nakai fought to strengthen the universality of international botanical nomenclature while claiming a uniquely ‘East Asian’ systematics as his Japanese universal systematics.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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