Darwin’s Empire of Emotions

Recently I’ve found myself interested in Charles Darwin’s 1872 book The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals. This is in no small part because of its charming illustrations of cats and dogs in a variety of emotional states. In the book, Darwin closely describes the bodily signs of emotion shown in different species to…

Theories of Evolution in Colonial Burma

Historians of natural history have long explored the emergence of evolutionary theory. Most of the studies that I have read on the subject tend to discuss its development and influence within an Imperial framework. The colonized world appears in these histories as a site in which key figures, such as Alfred Russell Wallace and Charles…

Exploding Mosquito Larvae and Jumping Lab Rats

I’m often tempted, when researching the history of science, to focus on experiments that seem, today, to have been odd or unusual. This is not a helpful approach. It can belittle the scientific understandings of the past and reinforce the simplistic story that ideas inexorably improve over time. Despite this, recently I found myself giving…

Getting the Wasp into the Cyanide Jar

In his address to the Bombay Natural History Society in 1893, Colonel Charles Thomas Bingham regaled the audience with stories from his recent trip along the Myawaddy Road that ran between British Burma and Siam collecting rare specimens of bird, butterfly and wasp. Using cliched imagery, he wrote of the region’s “unbroken forests” where “no…

The Imperial Science of Hypnotic Adverts

Whilst I was doing some research in colonial-era magazines, I stumbled across this 1930s advert in to: te’ yei: (progress) magazine for a book promising to teach people the skill of hypnotism. Costing just three rupees, the seller generously offered to refund any purchaser who found that they could not ‘master the science’. Learning hypnotism—or,…

‘The Philosopher Burmese Prince’ and the Air-Pump

The other week I found a digitized archive of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, a periodical originally founded under a different name by the famed colonial Orientalist scholar William Jones. I was having a flick through looking for articles on Burma and found the following little article from early 1833. I haven’t…