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Research

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Currently, I am an advanced doctoral student 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. I am currently a Fellow in the Franke Program in Science & the Humanities, and a Graduate Writing Fellow at the Poorvu Center's Graduate Writing Lab.

 

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, in the hope of narrating a history of coral reefs that is less Eurocentric and one that connects under-investigated local contexts with the global. My work attempts to understand how various ways of seeing reefs formed, and entangled with the valuation of nature over the 20th century to the present. In colonial and postcolonial contexts, different marine sciences, even departments within the same governments, the very idea of "coral" or a "reef" often varied widely; oftentimes, a "reef" was seen as something else entirely. Using archival collections, geospatial mapping, and oral histories in various countries, I investigate how historical actors like colonial and post-colonial scientists, extractivist industries, nation-states, fisheries officials, and conservationist companies, among others, not only attached affective qualities to a reef but in doing so came to define the reef itself.

 

Further, my work grapples with how different scientific communities construed 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 capitalism connected the local to the global, 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 used evo-devo-eco methods and ideas. It 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 Prince lab website.

Peer-reviewed publications:

Ahsan, K. The Reef as Rock: Ways of Seeing the Coastal Assemblage in Ceylon, 1880-1980 (in review)

Ahsan, K. The Most Modern Factory” at Kankesanturai: Coral, Cement & Early Developmentalism in Postcolonial Ceylon, 1948-1972 (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

Professional Memberships & Affiliations:

  • Consortium for the History of Science, Technology & Medicine (CHSTM); Oceans HSTM

  • Association of Asian Studies (AAS)

  • History of Science Society (HSS)

  • American Society of Environmental History (ASEH)

  • Marine Science Studies Network

  • Poorvu Center for Teaching & Learning, Graduate Writing Lab

  • Franke Program in Science and the Humanities

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