Kristina Buhrman: The Possibility of a History of Science for the Heian Insei Era

The Possibility of a History of Science for the Heian Insei Era

by Kristina Buhrman
Talk given at the Dec. 8-9, 2010 Conference

There has not been much in the way of a history of science in Japan for the period between the Heian Regency and the Edo periods. The late Heian Insei era in particular is depicted as a period of stagnation and decline as far as investigations of the natural world are concerned. However, the standard histories of Japanese science are based on a comparison with modern science, which leads to a problem of anachronism. Developments in the history of European science since the 1970s have questioned many of the founding assumptions of the earlier history of science for the modern and medieval periods. This paper introduces some of these developments, particularly related to credibility and scientific change, and it explores what new models might contribute to Japanese intellectual and cultural history. Although the question of whether Japanese astrology should be considered a science in its time remains debatable, the use of techniques from the history of science opens a fruitful way to trace some of the consequences of client-patron relationships on late Heian culture.