Project (2008-2009)

The Relation between the Market and the Making: Song to Mid-Qing Coal Culture

This research project on the history of science in China attempts to frame technology and natural knowledge as an integral part of broader sociocultural processes. At the heart of this work is the idea of innovation. While many studies of innovation focus on the generation and transmission of new ideas or methods, Grace Yen Shen was more interested in what actually makes the new or different “innovative” and how this develops in specific contexts. This included the development of an expertise culture, the growth of normative frameworks, standards and standardization, and how innovation is expressed and it can be traced historically. This project spanned the premodern to the contemporary, and was organized into four main sections. The first compared Song to Qing coal use and coal technology to that of the pre-Han; the second examined what Grace Yen Shen called Song to mid-Qing “coal culture”; the third used Song to mid-Qing coal culture to contextualize late Qing to early PRC innovations; and the final section analyzed the politico-economic and sociocultural implications of contemporary practices surrounding coal and coal mining.