When Pam Asquith was a grad student at Oxford University, she was struck by how differently Japanese scientists approached the study of primates.
That interest has proven pivotal in her career. It led her to Japan and, a decade and a half later, has brought her to the University of Alberta, where she became an associate professor of anthropology at the beginning of this year.
Asquith, who did her undergraduate work at York University in Toronto and then went straight to a DPhil program at Oxford, is no stranger to the U of A. When she returned to Canada after three years observing the scientific community in Japan, she came to the U of A as the recipient of a prestigious Killam Postdoctoral Fellowship. She stayed on as one of the first Canada Research Fellows funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council before accepting a faculty appointment at the University of Calgary.
She is now back at the U of A, drawn not only by the opportunities within her own department but by the University's strength in Fast Asian studies. "It's good for me to have access to the strong East Asian component here," she says. "There are students well trained in the language, cultural, historical, political science, and business aspects."
Asquith's particular interest is in how the Japanese and Korean cultures approach science - the overriding question is "What is their idea of the human place in nature?" It's a preoccupation that stems back to the observations she made at Oxford when she discovered Japanese primatologists invested animals with characteristics we in the Western world regard as belonging only to humans. "In Euro-American traditions of science," she says, "the idea that only humans have a soul and a mind has affected the kind of questions that could be asked. Whereas in Japan—certainly in primatology—they asked far more broad and complex questions. And indeed, they were able to find out a lot of things that we've only 20 years later found to he so."
Published Autumn 1996.