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Environment and History

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Environment and History

Empirical Knowledge, Scientific Authority, and Native Development: The Controversy over Sugar/Rice Ecology in the Netherlands East Indies, 1905-1914

Suzanne Moon

Environment and History 10(2004): 59-81

This essay explores the political value of empirical, scientific knowledge of place in the Netherlands East Indies. Critics of the European sugar industry claimed that sugar depleted the soil and stunted subsequent rice crops. The ensuing controversy reached a stalemate when both sugar scientists and their critics were accused of selectively choosing evidence according to political bias. Scientists in the Department of Agriculture resolved the dispute and fought accusations of bias by drawing on their empirical knowledge of agricultural conditions across Java, using place-based knowledge to construct their credibility and exclusive authority to speak for agricultural matters in the colony.

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