Monday workshop
Monday, February 3, 2014 (All day)

337 Cohen Hall

 John Matthew, Duke University

“Translocates and the Writing of India’s Fauna”

Abstract: I examine the development of taxonomic zoology in India between the very late eighteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, largely coincident with British colonisation of the region. In so doing I question conventional dyads of colonising and colonised nations where the vectors of influence are deemed deterministic in one direction, by suggesting instead that the flow of information is in fact reciprocal, if asymmetrical, tying into a larger circulation of knowledge. Central to my argument is the ‘translocate’, a term I have coined (drawing on classical cytogenetics) to describe a specialist form of the expatriate whose long years in the area of colonisation afford to him dual authority to speak for it, in interlocution with both the ‘native’ voice as well as the distantly located scholar who has never laid eyes on the region in question. While early natural history studies of the region involve French ‘voyageurs-naturalistes’ who come for relatively brief periods to the Indian subcontinent as part of larger expeditions to return material to the central dispatching body, ‘Le Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle’, thus contributing to France’s domination in the field during the early nineteenth century, it is functionaries from or working for Great Britain, first employees of the East India Company and after the Great Mutiny of the 1857, of the Crown, given to such disparate lines of occupational activity as medicine, religion, administrative surveys and the military, that come to dominate the study of the increasingly specialised disciplines of zoology, botany and geology over the following century, their expertise predicated upon intimate knowledge of the ground under study at first hand. The translocate will continue to play a pivotal role in writing the zoological treatises of South Asia initially concentrating on the vertebrates and later the invertebrate taxa as well.