Work interests: research, editing, science communication
Affiliation/website: National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka
Preferred contact method: Any
Preferred contact language(s): English, German
Contact: email = researchcooperative-at-gmail-dot-com
Favourite publications: Various, and especially the open access versions of older journals with effective review systems
Affiliations: 1996-present: National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka. 1995: Freelance editor, Kyoto. 1994: JSPS Research Visitor, Kyoto University, Kyoto. 1993: Research Visitor, Australian National University, Canberra. 1991: Visiting Researcher, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka.1990: STA Fellow, National Institute for Ornamental Plants, Vegetables, and Tea (NIVOT), Ano, Japan
Contact: National Museum of Ethnology, Senri Expo Park, Suita City, Osaka, Japan 565-8511
Biographical: Established the Research Cooperative in 2001
Favourite Publications: Various
Reading in 2022
By Research Cooperative, 2022-04-07
Michael Wood (1996) The Smile of the Murugan: A South Indian Journal. Penguin Books: London, pp. 247.
Non-fiction. I found this book being given away by a recently-retired, museum staff member who has been clearing out his office. As a specialist on Indian culture, he had many good books about India. This was an excellent account of journeys taken by a former BBC journalist and film-maker over many years. It has many dimensions, as travelogue, as ethnography, and as remembrance of a long friendship with one family in Chidambaram, a small city in Tamil Nadu state. I enjoyed his attention to the sweaty details of landscape, climate, physical decay, biological regeneration, and the living conditions endured and enjoyed by people he lived and traveled with. The book is also about religion, human spirit, our attachments to history and tradition, and the allure of modernity.
John Berendt (2006) The City of Falling Angels. Penguin Books: London, 420 pp.
Non-fiction. A wonderful social history of modern Venice, based on the author's experiences and investigations in the city over many years. The author made patient efforts to meet many different kinds of people, and gain diverse perspectives on many aspects of city life and history. I admire his ability to follow many threads of study and bring them all together. Despite taking up some (locally) very controversial topics, he is able to state at the beginning: "All the people in [this book] are real, and are identified by their real names. There are no composite characters".
Geerat Vermeij (1997) Privileged Hands: A Remarkable Scientific Life. W. H. Freeman and Company: New York.
Non-fiction. The author is a biologist who became blind in childhood, in the Netherlands. After migrating to the USA with his family, at a young age, he became fascinated with seashells, ecology, palaeobiology, and the evolution of molluscs. His vivid descriptions of field work in many different countries transported me far from Kyoto at a time when travel for my own fieldwork has been greatly limited. I enjoyed this beautifully written book as much for the author's personal story as for the broad view of 20th century biology and evolutionary theory.
Reading in 2021
By Research Cooperative, 2021-04-08
Bill Gammage (2012) The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia. Allen & Unwin. 434 pp.
I started reading this in 2020, and finished a few weeks ago... a long slow read but one I savored, as the author gradually builds up a big picture of what Australia was and is. He describes life-ways and a philosophy of living that do not fit the narrow categories of "farming" or "hunting and gathering" commonly used to distinguish Eurasian agricultural societies from many of those that exist (or existed) in Africa, the Americas, and Australia. By showing what Australia was, the scale of loss that followed European colonisation is overwhelming, at an emotional level. Not all is lost though, as this book is also an attempt to help us learn from historical experience, imagine new possibilities, and seek new directions. The lessons here are not just for those who live in Australia, and not just for the descendants of European colonisers. We all belong to a modern industrial world in which it has become increasingly difficult to remain connected to land, and to care for it.
Reading in 2020
By Research Cooperative, 2020-08-15
Chris Stewart. 1999. Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucia. London: Sort Of Books. Great escapist reading for would-be farmers and gardeners stuck in city apartments.
Isabel Colegate. 1968 [reprinted 2020] Orlando King. Bloomsbury Publishing. A timeslip to prewar and postwar Britain and the inner life of a political family, following the structure of Oedipus Rex. The reprint has useful introduction for classically untrained readers such as myself..
Pascale Besse. ed. 2014. Molecular Plant Taxonomy: Methods and Protocols. Humana Press. Has some very good chapters explaining technical aspects of phylogenetic analysis with DNA sequence data
Readings 2019 - another mixed bag
By Research Cooperative, 2020-03-24
Recommended (fun and/or serious)
Agnelli, Marella (1987) Gardens of the Italian Villas. (in association with Luca Pietromarchi, Robert Emmett Bright, Federico Forquet), Rizzoli, New York.
Ambrosoli, Mauro (1997) The Wild and the Sown: Botany and Agriculture in Western Europe, 1350-1850. Cambridge University Press (translated by Mary McCann Salvatorelli from Italian to English).
Anan, Paro (2019) Being Gandhi. HarperCollins (Illustrations by Priya Kuriyan).
Graeber, David (2019) Bullshi*t Jobs: A Theory (The rise of pointless work and what we can do about it). Penguin.
Ishiguro, Kazuo (2001)  An Artist of the Floating World. Faber and Faber.
Morike, Eduard (1968)  Mozart auf der Reise Nach Prag (Novelle). Philipp Reclam Jun., Stuttgart.
Muckenhoupt, Meg. (2018). Cabbage: A Global History. Reaktion Books, London (see book review).
Pearce, Michael (2017) The Mamur Zapt and the Donkey-Vous. HarperCollins.
Rebank, James (2016) The Shepherd's Life: A Tale of the Lake District. Penguin (see book reivew).
Varoufakis, Yanis (2017) Talking To My Daughter: A Brief History of Capitalism. Vintage
Tolerable (books with some points of interest, so I finished reading them)
Kruger, Susanna S. (2017) My Mother's Story and Worth: Africa to Aotearoa (NZ, self-published family history with some general historical interest).
Mackintosh, Sophie (2018) The Water Cure. Penguin (depressing description of dystopia dominated by gender conflict).
The Wild and the Sown
By Research Cooperative, 2019-07-29
In 460 detailed pages, including a detailed index, this densely-packed book reviews the spread of nitrogen fixing legumes across Europe and their changing roles in two agricultural revolutions (ascending in one, declining in the other):
Mauro Ambrosoli (1997) The Wild and the Sown: Botany and Agriculture in Western Europe, 1350-1850. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge
This is an excellent English translation by Mary McCann Salvatorelli. The original Italian edition was published in Turin in 1992.
Cabbage: A Global History
By Research Cooperative, 2019-06-04
There is a lot to learn about cabbages - and they in turn are just a small part of the large family of brassica vegetables!
This new book on cabbage is good to read, for anyone who grows, cooks or eats cabbages:
Muckenhoupt, Meg. (2018). Cabbage: A Global History. London, Reaktion Books.
There are many interesting side-stories along the way. The author has read - and eaten - widely to give us this book. I particularly like the use of old paintings of cabbages and cabbage fields to illustrate the book here and there.
The book is one of many in the "Edible" series published by Reaktion Books.
The Shepherd's Life: A Tale of the Lake District
By Research Cooperative, 2019-05-06
Book review: The Shepherd's Life: A Tale of the Lake District , by James Rebank (2016 , Penguin Books, UK).
Peter J. Matthews, for The Research Coooperative, blog, 6th May 2019.
The Lake District of northern England is most famous today as a scenic destination for millions of tourists annually, a get-away-from-it-all region for visitors from across the United Kingdom and the world. It is mountainous, with many peaks of more than 600m, including the highest peak in England, at 978m. These are not high mountains by world standards, but at a latitude of around 54 degrees North, the entire region is very cold in winter, has short summers, and is not easy for farming.
It is in this region that James Rebanks grew up as a farmer and shepherd, like his parents and grandparents and others before them. While telling the story of his own family, and the tensions, tenderness and cooperation that coexist in a multi-generational family farm, Rebanks also tells the larger story of a traditional farming system that has existed for thousands of years, based on sheep herds that may have originated with the migrations of Vikings into the region from northern Europe. There is also a story here of modern social history, telling how landless peasants became tenant or smallholding farmers while also retaining access to high mountain pastures (the fells) that are still managed as commons, having escaped enclosures (privatisation) during and after the 19th century.
The author also shows how traditional "cultural landscapes" and "intangible cultural heritage" are formed, and how these may struggle to survive even as efforts are made to preserve the outward, material appearances of a landscape. To understand his own world, Rebanks stepped outside, into the world of academic study, and then returned. Rebanks is quite explicit in his own wish to dedicate his life to a particular place and culture, while helping others to do the same in other regions of the world, through various kinds of negotiation with the modern world. He is anti-dogmatic, despite his dedication to a particular way of life: his purpose is not to prescribe solutions, but to help others find their own solutions, and to enjoy their own ways of living. The stories in this book are both personal and universal, and I could easily find resonances with my own experiences of life growing up in New Zealand, where my ancestors were farmers, and where some branches of the family remain close to a particular landscape and rural culture, while others have wandered far from it.
Perhaps it is my own farming instincts and family history that made this book so interesting for me, but I also want to think about the implications for my work as an ethnobiologist. For many years I have been looking at how people across Asia and the Pacific have maintained certain plants, cultivation methods, and cooking methods over thousands of years, not only across generations but also across cultures and languages. Although we often think of the world as divided by geographical, social, and cultural boundaries, there are also many continuities across ancient cultural landscapes. Understanding such continuities may help us to recognise shared interests in the present, and opportunities for mutual support in the future.
[See also: The Illustrated Herdwick Shepherd , by the same author].
Photo above: "Herdwick sheep browsing in a field remarkably popular with moles", by Pete Birkinshaw , 19th February, 2009 (via Wikimedia Commons and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license).
Readings 2018 - a mixed bag
By Research Cooperative, 2018-11-13
I tend read whatever happens to come to hand, when a free moment lets me get started -- and then I try to finish what I start, but sometimes it's just not possible; sorry to the authors.
Here's a list of finished readings in 2018 (to help me recall where I went in spare hours).
Wohlleben's book gave me good food for thought while looking at forests in China and Vietnam.
* * *
Crumley, Jim (1997) The Company of Swans (Engravings by Harry Brockway). Harvill Press. London. Non-fiction.
Drucker, Peter F. (2001) The Essential Drucker. Collins Business: New York . Non-fiction.
Fermour, Patrick Leigh (1953) The Violins of Saint Jacques. John Murray: London . Fiction.
Follett, Ken (2017) A Column of Fire. Penguin, New York. Fiction.
Garfield, Simon (2000) Mauve: How one man invented a color that changed the world. W. W. Norton: New York and London. Non-fiction.
Gopnik, Adam (2000) Paris to the Moon. Random House: New York. Non-fiction.
Hemingway, Ernest (1929) Across the River and Into the Trees. Arrow Books: London . Fiction.
Higashino, Keigo (2015) Malice. Abacus, London. Fiction.
O'Brian, Patrick (1973) H. M. S. Surprise. Norton: New York and London . Fiction.
Wohlleben, Peter (2017) The Hidden Life of Trees. W. Collins: London. Non-fiction.
Mr Bloomfield's Orchard
By Research Cooperative, 2017-02-26
Nicholas P. Money (2002) Mr Bloomfield's Orchard: The mysterious world of mushrooms, molds, and mycologists. Oxford University Press: New York.
This is a book that anyone with an interest in biology can enjoy. I came to the book as a botanist who has been gradually becoming aware of the possible complexity of interactions between the crop I study, insects, and fungii. I needed a basic and relatively recent overview of how fungii behave in the world, and this book proved to be a good choice.
My concern is with Phytopthora colocasiae, a leaf blight disease on taro (Colocasia esculenta). Phytopthora infestans, the cause of potato blight, is introduced near the end of the book. It is famous for contributing to the Irish Famine of 1845 (the other contribution came from land, tax and trade policies that did not take into account that a starved and jobless population cannot simply purchase the food it needs: supply cannot meet demand when those in need have no capital. Phytopthora blew in on the wind, and the Irish blew out on sailing ships. One diaspora generated a second.
Money writes in an easy-to-read style that is based on long experience of explaining complex life cycles to university students. The humour used to lighten the reading is sometimes more than needed, but is usually pulled back just in time to reach the serious crux of each topic. The orchard of the title was located in the author's home village in Oxfordshire, UK. It was where he first encountered fungii in large quantities, on rotting fruit. It seems he did not immediately take to fungii, but rather found them a second time through a teacher at university.
My own research trajectory is a little similar - I first ecountered taro, a Pacific crop, growing wild next to a derelict whaling station in northern New Zealand, during a family camping trip. My academic interest did not develop until I met teachers who were passionate about the study of deep history - archaeologists of the Pacific. In this region, taro arrived early, as a crop introduced from island to island. The disease followed centuries later, in the 20th century, spreading out from somewhere in Southeast Asia. After reading a book written by a passionate mycologist, my interest in Phytopthora colocasiae has grown.
It is unlikely that I can help stop the present spread of this disease, but I might learn something useful if I keep my eyes open while studying wild populations of the host plant. And my host plant in its natural habitat might even be a good place to look for fungii that have not been seen before.
It seems that any microcosm that has not already been visited by myocologists is likely to reveal new forms of fungal life. Although most fungii are inconspicuous, they are not insignificant - they play an outsized role in wider ecology of life on Earth.
How the Indian Ocean Shaped Human History
By Research Cooperative, 2017-01-21
Sanjeev Sanyal (2016) The Ocean of Churn: How the Indian Ocean Shaped Human History, Penguin (297 pp. incl. index).
I found the book in December last year in a great bookshop hidden away on an upper floor of an Indian cottage crafts emporium in New Delhi. Sanyal, an Oxford-trained economist, takes us deep into the prehistory, human migrations, and social upheavals of all regions that lie around or near the Indian Ocean, from our human evolutionary past to modern economic present.
The Ocean of Churn is an expansive journey across time and space, informed by the author's own footwork in many of the places he writes about. The Indian continent is geologically and socially central to the story. Although the author is himself Indian, and is very interested in India's position in world history, he provides a refeshingly frank and balanced view of all the characters in his narrative, in India and beyond.
Sanyal has pulled many diverse subjects into a single coherent, readable narrative that expresses sympathy for ordinary people, admiration for the achievements of extraordinary people, and shows how ordinary people can often be seen as extraordinary when we look back in time.
An implication of all this is that our "ordinary" today would certainly be extraordinary to people in the past. The fact that "ordinary" readers from almost anywhere in the world might chance to read this book review is one example.
A larger purpose of Sanyal's writing may be to help people today understand that human movements and social interractions have been complex and wide-ranging for many thousands of years. His hope, I imagine, is that we can continue adapting to ever-changing circumstances without resorting to the kinds of greed, violence and short-sighted planning that have characterised so many human endeavours in the past.
In this journey around the Indian Ocean, the author introduces the best and worst traits of human nature, and suggests how we may all have significant roles to play in human history -- even if our lives are never recorded in stone memorials that will in any case be buried in the detritus of later ages.