U.S. Biological Nativism and Japanese Invasions: Constituting Race through Transnational Public Health and Agriculture, 1880-1950

Jeannie N. Shinozuka is currently an Andrew W. Mellon Post-Doctoral Research Associate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 2014-2015, she was a Research Fellow of the Consortium. A report on her research is below.

My book manuscript advances the argument that a constellation of American responses to Japanese plant, insect, and human bodies beginning in the late nineteenth century constitute a powerful historical instance of the centrality of biology and biota (i.e., all biological forms) to race making and racial meanings. Contributing to and intervening in debates in several fields about bodies, borders, contagion, empires, regulation, and science in American, Japanese, Latin American, ethnic, public health, and environmental studies, my work appreciates these policies as an intimate accomplice in racial formations. U.S. Biological Nativism focuses on a host of policies, instituted as early as the 1880s and continuing well into the mid-twentieth century, that transformed American horticulture and agriculture; while at once reflecting and shaping the racialization of the Japanese and Asians more largely in the United States. For example, the quarantine of the Japanese chestnut in 1919, in addition to other invasive biota, perpetuated biological nativism: a belief in the need to maintain the nation’s biosphere that diseased foreign plants, insects, and bodies constantly threatened. Generous funding from the Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine enabled me to spend approximately two months in the Philadelphia area, specifically at the American Philosophical Society, the Academy of Natural Sciences Library, the Wagner Free Institute of Science, and the Hagley Museum and Library. The new materials I found in the Philadelphia area provide both local and international insights into the movement of Japanese plant and insect immigrants, transforming the book manuscript as I move closer to obtaining a book contract from a university press. At the American Philosophical Society, I found materials that detailed the administration of Leland O. Howard, United States Department of Agriculture Chief of the Division and then Bureau of Entomology from 1894-1927. Under his leadership, Howard instigated a war on insects, or “man versus insects.” As a medical entomologist, Dr. Howard saw injurious insects as not only a menace to the health of the American public, but also a threat to the nation’s agricultural industries. The expansion of the Bureau of Entomology’s reach and power during his tenure serves as one of the hallmarks of his administration. Under his direction, Howard waged his war on insects through biological control in the form of parasites and predatory insects that would attack the enemy or invasive insect. Materials on Howard show the extent to which he and other USDA officials worked cooperatively with Japanese officials to locate and cultivate beneficial insects, such as the Asiatic ladybird used to combat the Asian San José scale. Materials at the Academy of Natural Sciences include both manuscripts written by Japanese intellectuals, as well as pamphlets on native plants collected by John Harshberger, a professor of botany at the University of Pennsylvania. Harshberger collected at least several pamphlets on native plants, placing them alongside Native Americans, as a reflection of his concern over the vanishing native landscape and native bodies. Handwritten records evidence the strong ties between the US and Japan when Japanese scientists, including Shinkai Inokichi Kuwana, routinely exchanged ideas across the Pacific Ocean. Kuwana, head of the Tokyo Imperial Agricultural Experiment Station in Japan, went to Stanford University in 1899 in order to work in the entomology laboratory and later establish a school of entomology in Japan. These aforementioned materials attest to both the concern of the preservation of native plants, as well as directly link conversations between entomologists in Japan and the US. The world of ethnobotanists such as Harshberger must be situated within these larger global conversations. The Wagner Free Institute of Science houses several rare and archival materials that are now providing rich detail for the book manuscript. For example, the proceedings of the Pan-Pacific Science Congress, held in 1923 in Australia declared its aim as the advancement of knowledge of the Pacific Ocean, as well as its surrounding regions. According to Dr. Joji Sakurai, Vice President of the National Research Council of Japan, such intellectual exchanges should occur “irrespective of race or religion” (Proceedings of the Pan-Pacific Science Congress, 1923, page 27). Materials such as these proceedings reinforced my hypothesis that Japanese intellectuals sought to place themselves on the same stage as their North American and European counterparts, as well as center stage in the Pacific. Unlike many other manuscripts I have viewed at other archives, for the first time I found solid evidence of how leading scientists in Australia, North America, Japan, and Europe all dialogued with one another—addressing issues such as international quarantine and agricultural trade. At the local level, the Scrapbooks of the Wagner Free Institute of Science illustrate the devastating effects international trade have had throughout the East Coast, including Pennsylvania. The Wagner Scrapbooks contained valuable Philadelphia newspaper clippings from the Depression Era. These newspaper articles offered suggestions about hiking and walking trails in the local area, discussing the wide variety of plants their audience should appreciate, including the Japanese barberry, Japanese buckwheat, Japanese weeping rosebud, Japanese cherry tree, and Japanese larch—oftentimes surrounding a Japanese pagoda. These archival materials demonstrate the extent to which Philadelphians in the area desired and admired exotics from Japan in particular. Yet such desire for exotics has a complicated history with the accidental importation of unwanted invasions, including chestnut blight. At the Hagley Museum and Library, materials on the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition, chestnut blight, Japanese immigration, and agricultural technologies used to combat foreign invasions are now further enriching my book manuscript. For the first time, Japan exhibited their agricultural goods (alongside other innovations) at the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition in order to demonstrate its growing global influence. The wealthy Philadelphians and others who visited the Exposition saw firsthand all of the exotic ornamentals and useful plants Japan had to offer. Nursery and seed trade catalogues at the turn of the twentieth century made such foreign agricultural products readily available to those who could afford it. Rare minutes of The Pennsylvania Chestnut Blight Conference housed at the Hagley provide insight into the local and particular concerns the chestnut canker raised in the northeast within the context of increasing trade. Based on the evidence found at places such as the Hagley and Wagner, I noticed how many Philadelphians saw themselves as contemporary and modern via the acquisition of foreign agricultural goods from places such as Japan. On the West Coast—in particular, California—where Japanese immigrants resided in large numbers, anti-Japanese sentiment found expression in both the human and natural worlds. Reports of the Immigration Commission provide unusually detailed statistical data on the Japanese in agriculture, with an emphasis on California, as well as Japanese in Washington, Oregon, Utah, Idaho, Montana, and Texas. Anti-Japanese sentiment in the northeast in places such as Philadelphia, on the other hand, emerged through anti-Japanese and anti-Asian plant legislation and quarantine. A research fellowship from the Consortium played a crucial role in improving my book-in-progress as I prepare to submit my research to university presses.

Jeannie Shinozuka