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Currently, I am an doctoral student (ABD) in history at Yale, building on my MA work on coral reefs using environmental history, intellectual history, global history, literary theory, STS, and history of science. For my MA work, I focused on the histories of coral reefs using many different kinds of coral research for a holistic historical understanding of the problem facing reefs today using work across scientific disciplines in the late 18th and 19th centuries.


My dissertation focuses on the intellectual histories of "reef" ontologies in peripheral reef regions, specifically Sri Lanka, Belize, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Philippines. My work is an attempt to understand how certain ways of seeing reefs formed, and entangled with the valuation of nature over the 20th century to the present. Using geospatial mapping and oral histories, I investigate how historical actors like colonial and post-colonial scientists, extractivist industries, nation-states, and conservationist companies, among others, not only attached affective qualities onto a reef, but in doing so came to define the reef itself. My work grapples with how different scientific communities construe reefs often at odds with one another despite seemingly shared goals, how reefs and coastal resources were commodified and brought into capital accumulation across the 20th century in various ways, how deeply local contexts connected to the global by way of political economy, and how the contemporary moment provides yet newer ways of seeing that have not been sufficiently problematized.

My first doctorate was in developmental biology. My doctoral work in the Prince Lab at the University of Chicago focused on a highly migratory, multipotent cell population specific to vertebrate embryos: the Neural Crest. In particular, I found a mechanism to confer polarity and directionality to the neural crest, the behavior of which has been likened to metastatic cancer cells. I used embryology, genetics, molecular and cellular approaches in the zebrafish model system, as well as evolutionary biology, to ask specific questions about how vertebrate embryos are patterned. For more info, please visit the lab website. 

Peer-reviewed publications:

Ahsan, K. The Reef as Rock: Mining & Ecology in Sri Lanka, 1948-1998 (in preparation)


Rocha, M., Singh, S., Ahsan, K., Beiriger, A., Prince, V.E. Neural crest development: insights from the zebrafish (Review) Developmental Dynamics, Vol. 249, January 2020


Ahsan, K., Singh, N. Rocha, M., Huang, C., Prince, V.E. Prickle1 and migration of zebrafish cranial neural crest Developmental Biology, Vol. 448, 1 April 2019


Gallik, K.L., Treffy, R.W., Nacke, L.M., Ahsan, K., Rocha, M., Green-Saxena, A., Saxena, A., Neural crest and cancer: Divergent travelers on similar paths (Review) Mechanisms of Development, Vol. 148, December 2017

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