People

Lisa Onaga

Senior Research Scholar (Since 2017)

PhD

Lisa Onaga works on the history of science and technology in Japan, with a focus on questions about the ownership and authorship of knowledge in relation to biological materiality at the interface of invertebrate and human life in agricultural, laboratory, and industrial settings. Her forthcoming monograph, Cocoon Cultures: The Entangled History of Biology and Silk in Modern Japan examines how the pursuit of the perfect silkworm cocoon served as a key means for exploring how genes and environments interact 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 a second project dedicated to the archipelagic peripheries of Japan. Under the working title of “Biomaterial Matters,” different historical interfaces among silkworms, plants, pathogens, humans, and silk are examined toward a suite of interdisciplinary histories. This work focuses on sites such as Amami Ōshima from the days of the Ryūkyū Kingdom, Taiwan during the colonial period, and other sites during the post-World War II era, in order to deepen a temporal understanding of experimental cultivation and uses of silk and their roles in constructing local, regional, or global claims to knowledge. These research interests are ultimately connected to questions about how knowledge about animals is made intelligible, for example, in terms of the histories of scientific methods used to date and describe animal-based proteins and fibers, or how animals have been rendered into resources for intellectual and societal problem-solving. Onaga received her PhD from Cornell University and was a member of the history faculty at Nanyang Technological University from 2012 until 2018 when she stepped down to undertake new responsibilities at the MPIWG. Previously, she was a fellow at the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics.

Projects

Anatomy of a Hybrid: The Entangled History of Biology and Silk in Modern Japan

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Animal Mobilities

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Got Milk? Historical Molecular and Microbiomic Interventions in the Gene-Culture Coevolution of Lactase Persistence

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Making Animal Materialities in Time

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Proteins and Fibers: Scaffolding History with Molecular Signatures

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Reclaiming Turtles All the Way Down (TAWD): Animal Cosmologies and Paths to Indigenous Sciences

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Teach311 + COVID-19 Collective

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The Body of Animals

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History of Science ON CALL: Listening, Attending, Acting

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Selected Publications

Onaga, Lisa and Harry Yi-Jui Wu (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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Events

Workshop

Role of Creative Practice in Heritage Process: Speculative Pasts from Certain Futures. Past, Present and Future, Which Comes First?

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Workshop

Decolonizing One Discipline at a Time, Starting with Heritage Conservation

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Lecture

Critical Heritage Practice: Preferred Futures, Uncertain Presents and Speculative Pasts

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Institute's Colloquium

Pulse Check: Public Communication and Trust in Science

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Workshop

What Does South-to-South Mean for Cold War Science and Technology in Asia

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Reading Group

Proteins and Fibers: Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry

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Institute's Colloquium

Pandemic Polities: Science Governance in Democratic and Authoritarian Regimes

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Roundtable Discussion​

Sources of Disaster: New Epistemic Perspectives in Post-3.11 Japan

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Colloquium

Making Animal Materialities in Time

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Workshop

The Socio-Material History of Masked Societies in East Asia: A Virtual Workshop

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Presentation

Digital, Domestic, Disposable: The Life Sciences’ Many Cultures of Experimentation

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Workshop

Global South Cosmologies & Epistemologies: A Trans-Hemispheric Conversation

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Workshop

Animal Materialities: Compositions and Practices in the History of Science

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Workshop

Proteins & Fibers Inquiry IV: “Reading the Book by Ignoring the Words”

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Symposium

The Artist-Silkworm Interface: The Agricultural Treatise as Source and Scrutiny for Creating an Artist Book

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News & Press

"Proteins and Fibers" Working Group (Dept. III) seeks a Postdoctoral Fellow (deadline Feb. 20, 2021)

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Interdisciplinary event series "Animals as Objects?" announced

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MPIWG's History of Science "ON CALL" project featured on Max Planck Society's Newsroom

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