Monthly Archives: February 2020

14 Feb. 2020 — 12:00 noon — WAG 316

Raymond Hyser (UT)

“’Brought Into Tilth by Axe and Fire’: Planters, Botanical Gardens, and the Ecological Transformation of British Ceylon”

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, British planters in colonial Ceylon accomplished the most extensive conversion of tropical rainforest into plantation agriculture seen anywhere in the British Empire. In the closing decades of the nineteenth century, Ceylon’s plantation-centered economy experienced the utter collapse of its coffee industry and an almost immediate, rapid transition to tea plantation agriculture. Exploring the ecological transformation of Ceylon’s highlands wrought by British agricultural interests, this talk highlights how the relationship between the Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens and the British planting community played a decisive role in the collapse of coffee agriculture and the dramatic rise of Ceylon tea.


Raymond Hyser is a graduate student in the History Department at the University of Texas at Austin. He received his MA in the Social Sciences from the University of Chicago and his BA in History and Art History from the University of Virginia. His current research traces agricultural knowledge networks between the West Indies and South Asia within the British Empire.

7 Feb. 2020 — 12:00 noon — WAG 316

Mark Ravina (UT)

“‘Sacred Mathematics’: Rediscovering the Rituals of Traditional Japanese Geometry”

In early-modern Japan, mathematical inquiry was organized like poetry composition or martial arts training. Students joined schools led by a master teacher, who was himself often the descendant or disciple of an earlier master teacher. Different schools engaged in heated and sustained rivalries. In mathematics, schools would declare their achievements and challenge their rivals by posting plaques with difficult problems at temples.

This paper explores those plaques (sangaku) and their historiography. Until the 1950s, sangaku were excluded from the history of mathematics, largely because they had no counterpart in the West. Japanese historians were focused on finding “Japan’s Newton,” and saw sangaku as little more than a novelty. How did historians come to celebrate sangaku as an art form, rather than just a failure to combine mathematics with natural science?

Mark Ravina is Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin. Read more about his work at: