Article ID: CBB814974392

Jesuit Scientists and Mongolian Fossils: The French Paleontological Missions in China, 1923–1928 (2017)


This essay examines the Mission paléontologique française of the 1920s, a series of scientific expeditions into the Ordos Desert in Inner Mongolia in which a team of Jesuit scholar-scientists worked with local collaborators to provide material for the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. The case study shows that the global and colonial expansion of Western science in the early twentieth century provided space for traditional scientific institutions, such as universalizing metropolitan collections and clerical scholarly networks, to extend their research projects. The linking of approaches, agendas, and geographic regions was facilitated by the concepts and practices of the deep-time sciences of geology, paleontology, and human prehistory. These were based on the interchange of expertise, common projects of unveiling the development of life, and the alignment of different regions and specimens. Moreover, the expeditions did not just conduct research based around global movement and transmission. They also conceptualized the ancient development of life in terms of movement, migration, and exchange. The act of forming research networks that linked Asia and Europe also led scientists to conceive of these regions as bound by deep natural processes. Circulation and transfer became important actors’ categories used to understand the origins and history of life.

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Authors & Contributors
Sepkoski, David Christopher
Biagioli, Mario
Ritvo, Harriet
Beckert, Sven
Bowden, A. J.
Wilding, R.
Journal of the History of Biology
Ziran Kexueshi Yanjiu (Studies in the History of Natural Sciences)
Archives of Natural History
Filosofia e História da Biologia
East Asian Science, Technology, and Medicine
Geological Society of London
Riverhead Books
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery
University of California Press
University of Chicago Press
Harvard University
Scientific expeditions
Natural history
Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre
Yuan Fuli
Brown, Barnum
Xu, Xing
Osborn, Henry Fairfield
Forster-Cooper, Clive
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
20th century, early
20th century, late
21st century
18th century
United States
Buenos Aires (Argentina)
University of Sheffield
University of Manchester
Museo de La Plata (Argentina)
Jesuits (Society of Jesus)
Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin

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