Monday, July 19, 2021 - 12:00pm

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Colonizing Time: Caste, Colonial Rule, and the Exact Sciences in India, 1783–1874

My thesis follows science, empire, and the Hindu caste system over the long nineteenth century. I show that observatories and universal histories alike were made to work by incorporating upper-caste labor and knowledge into the larger matrix of imperial power. I follow a number of British surveyors in the Bengal Delta in the eighteenth century, who attempted to recover ancient knowledge from Sanskrit texts. Back in London, these texts were studied by East India Company administrators, in the early nineteenth century, and mined for information valuable to a universal history of mathematics. As the British established hegemony over the subcontinent, Sanskrit astronomy was seen as a joke, a mere superstitious vestige. Yet it also qualified the Brahmins hired in Company observatories to produce new data. By the end of the nineteenth century, a number of Indians tried to “engraft” modern mathematical and observatory techniques onto Sanskrit astronomy. By tracing the day to day activities of observation and data collection required to regulate the multiple timescales of an empire, I show that practices of timekeeping exerted pressure on the cosmologies of both colonized and colonizer.