People

Lisa Onaga

Senior Research Scholar (Since 2017)

PhD

Lisa Onaga works on questions related to the ownership and authorship of knowledge connected to biological materiality at the interface of invertebrate and human life in agricultural, laboratory, and industrial settings, especially in Japan. Her forthcoming monograph, Cocoon Cultures: The Entangled History of Biology and Silk in Japan Since 1840 examines how the pursuit of the perfect silkworm cocoon served as a key means for cultivators and scientists to explore how genes and environments interacted in sexually reproducing living things during a period of Imperial commitment to foster industrial raw silk manufacturing and trade. This sociologically informed history of sericulture and genetics has given rise to adjacent research on Japanese sericulture in colonial Taiwan and in postwar Southeast Asia. Her newer project, organized under the working title of “Biomaterial Matters,” examines a suite of multidisciplinary postwar histories of silk as a biomaterial, focusing on how scientists, engineers, designers, weavers, and artists practically and theoretically worked with this material locally, regionally, or globally. The case of silk textiles produced on Amami Ōshima, an island in the southern periphery of Japan, provides an anchor for analyzing knowledge claims about animal and plant-based proteins and fibers in history, and how they have been rendered into intellectual and sociocultural resources.

Lisa Onaga received her PhD in Science & Technology Studies from Cornell University and was a member of the History faculty at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore between 2012 and 2018 before she moved to Germany to undertake new responsibilities as Senior Research Scholar at the MPIWG, where she leads the Working Groups: "Proteins and Fibers" and "Reclaiming Turtles All the Way Down."

Her recent work includes Making Animal Materials in Time (co-edited with Laurence Douny) and “Reprogramming the Story:  Insects as Edible Vaccines.” She has previously held fellowships with the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics, D. Kim Foundation for the History of Science and Technology in East Asia, Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien, and was a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia at the University of Tokyo. She also co-founded Teach311+Covid-19 Collective, a multi-language project dedicated to the study of disasters and crises. She currently serves on the editorial board of Historical Studies of the Natural Sciences and as an associate editor with History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences. Lisa is currently serving a term as a Member of the German National Committee of the Division of History of Science and Technology of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science and Technology

Current Projects

The Entangled History of Biology and Silk in Modern Japan
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Proteins and Fibers
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Reclaiming Turtles All the Way Down
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Completed Projects

Animal Mobilities
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Got Milk? History of Making Lactose Intolerance Science
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History of Science ON CALL
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Animal Materialities
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Teach311 + COVID-19
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The Body of Animals
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Selected Publications

Onaga, Lisa and Laurence Douny, eds. (2023). Making Animal Materials in Time. Special issue, Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 53 (3). Oakland, CA: University of California Press. https://online.ucpress.edu/hsns/issue/53/3.

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Onaga, Lisa and Laurence Douny (2023). “Making Animal Materials in Time.” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 53 (3): 197–220. https://doi.org/10.1525/hsns.2023.53.3.197.

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Onaga, Lisa (2022). “Reprogramming the Story: Edible Insects as Vaccines.” International Review of Environmental History 8 (1): 111–120. https://doi.org/10.22459/IREH.08.01.2022.07.

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Onaga, Lisa (2021). “A Matter of Taste: Making Artificial Silkworm Food in Twentieth-Century Japan.” In Nature Remade: Engineering Life, Envisioning Worlds, ed. L. A. Campos, M. R. Dietrich, T. Saraiva, and C. C. Young, 115–134. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

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Onaga, Lisa and Harry Yi-Jui Wu, eds. (2018). Articulating Genba: Particularities of Exposure and its Study in Asia. Special issue, Positions: Asia Critique 26 (2). Durham, NC: Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-4351590.

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Onaga, Lisa (2018). “Measuring the Particular: The Meanings of Low-Dose Radiation Experiments in Post-1954 Japan.” Positions: Asia Critique 26 (2): 265–304. https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-4351566.

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Onaga, Lisa (2017). “Reconstructing the Linear No-Threshold Model in Japan: A Historical Perspective on the Technics of Evaluating Radiation Exposure.” Technology and Culture 58 (1): 194–205. https://doi.org/10.1353/tech.2017.0009.

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Onaga, Lisa (2015). “More than Metamorphosis: The Silkworm Experiments of Toyama Kametarō and his Cultivation of Genetic Thought in Japan’s Sericultural Practices, 1894–1918.” In New Perspectives on the History of Life Sciences and Agriculture, ed. D. Phillips and S. Kingsland, 1st ed., 40:415–438. Cham: Springer.

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Onaga, Lisa (2014). “Ray Wu as Fifth Business: Deconstructing Collective Memory in the History of DNA Sequencing.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science. Part C, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 46: 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsc.2013.12.006 .

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Onaga, Lisa (2010). “Toyama Kametaro and Vernon Kellogg: Silkworm Inheritance Experiments in Japan, Siam, and the United States, 1900–1912.” Journal of the History of Biology 43: 215–264. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10739-010-9222-z.

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Upcoming Events

Institute's Colloquium

Approaching, Translating, and Engaging Cosmology

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Past Events

Reading Group

Reading Group: Animal Fibers as Sources of Inquiry

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Reading Group

Reading Group: Animal Fibers as Sources of Inquiry

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Reading Group

Reading Group: Animal Fibers as Sources of Inquiry

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Workshop

The Making of a Cage Bird Class: African Grey Parrots in Early Modern Europe

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Reading Group

Reading Group: Animal Fibers as Sources of Inquiry

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Methods Intensive Masterclass

Concepts of Time in the Anthropology of Knowledge

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Reading Group

Reading Group: Animal Fibers as Sources of Inquiry

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Methods Intensive Masterclass

Anthropology of Knowledge beyond the Human

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Lecture

Pandemic Origins: The Anthropology of Knowledge in Time

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Workshop

Fibers of Existence—Disordering Animals

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Reading Group

Reading Group: Animal Fibers as Sources of Inquiry

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Lecture

Carbon Technocracy: Energy Regimes in Modern East Asia

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Reading Group

Reading Group: Animal Fibers as Sources of Inquiry

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Colloquium

Experimental Infrastructures of Entomological Care in Colonial Taiwan: Sericultural Acclimatization

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Reading Group

Reading Group: Animal Fibers as Sources of Inquiry

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Reading Group

Reading Group: Animal Fibers as Sources of Inquiry

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Nachrichten & Presse

In Bildern: Bibliothek veranstaltet ersten Publications Slam

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Eröffnung: Internationale Max Planck Research School „Knowledge and Its Resources"

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Ankündigung der interdisziplinären Ringvorlesung „Animals as Objects?“ 

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Media