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June 29, 2021 at 7:57 am

Lee Reviews Two Books on History of Microbes in Food, Medicine

Dr. Victoria Lee, portrait outdoors

Dr. Victoria Lee

Dr. Victoria Lee reviews two books about microbes, looking at both sides of the “great divide” for Los Angeles Review of Books headlined “Gods of Small Things.”

From the known history of human engagement with microbes, it might be tempting to conclude that modernity represents one great rupture. There was the time before the Enlightenment, with its notion that we could have God-like mastery over the rest of the earth, and there was the time after.

Two ambitious scholarly books on fermentation and microbiology are haunted by the so-called Great Divide. In the popular imagination, it foreclosed possibilities, forcing nations and cultures onto a single historical path. For many brewers and consumers of soju, now Korea’s “national” drink and also the topic of historian Hyunhee Park’s book entitled Soju: A Global History, it was Japanese colonial science in the early 20th century that estranged the Korean nation from its own authentic tradition.

We are living through a 21st-century turning point concerning our understanding of the relations between humans and other life. Geographer Jamie Lorimer in his book The Probiotic Planet catalogs that sea change.

Read her review.

Lee is assistant professor of History at Ohio University. Her book, “The Arts of the Microbial World: Fermentation Science in Twentieth-Century Japan,” is forthcoming in fall 2021.

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