Doctoral Candidate

2018 Cohort

Claudia Cohen Hall 330

Curriculum Vitæ


M.A. University of Pennsylvania

B.A. Washington University in St. Louis, magna cum laude


My interests lie at the intersection of the history of the chemical sciences, colonialism, and the environment in modern South India, though my curiosity stretches much wider. The First World War first captured my historical imagination, especially how this pivotal event impacted global empires, social orders, scientific practice, and cultural ideology for the rest of the twentieth century. 

My dissertation project, Colonial Alchemies, traces the connections between chemical knowledge, industrialization, and late colonialism in South India. Focusing on Tamil-speaking regions of the Madras Presidency during the interwar period, I seek to understand how the establishment of homegrown chemical industries was driven by various political, economic, scientific, and social interests. In my research, I explore such topics as the founding of the Indian Institute of Science as a site for chemical training, Indian entrepreneurs and their dealings with the colonial adminstration, government-owned experimental factories for ink and glue, and the industrial aspriations of South India's first local political movement, the Justice Party. The questions that animate me include: how did chemistry become a means for producing and extracting value? What was it like to run a chemical business in the early twentieth century colonial world? And, how do we make sense of the dramatic industrial transformations in South India, given that most colonial interventions in this area were half-measures at best?

With Claire Sabel, Taylor Dysart, and Koyna Tomar, I was a co-coordinator of Science Beyond the West in the Department of History and Sociology of Science. Through my involvement with this working group, I became passionate for developing new pedagogies to teach the global history of science, and co-organized a conference on this topic at Penn in October 2019.

Prior to beginning graduate school, I studied chemistry and history at Washington University in St. Louis. As a Merle Kling Undergraduate Honors Fellow, I conducted research on how the First World War kickstarted British imperial responses to the nitrogen problem, or the global crisis of the scarcity of nitrogen, itself a critical component of both fertilizers and explosives. In colonial India, the war became a moment of opportunity to meld science with a vision for the future of agriculture. Investigating the links between chemistry, war, and colonialism is what led me to pursue further study as a PhD student, and resulted in my current dissertation project.

I was also involved in programming with the Center for the Humanities at WashU. This experience, as well as working for two years as a program associate at the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) left me with a deep commitment towards multidisciplinary inquiry and the value of a liberal arts education.

In my free time, I enjoy swimming, music, finding my next favorite TV show, taking road trips, and generally spending time with my cats and husband.


Research Interests

history of the chemical sciences, South Asian history, environmental history, colonialism and empire, global history of science, history and anthropology of infrastructure, science and technology studies

Selected Work

Review of Siegel, Benjamin Robert. Hungry Nation: Food, Famine, and the Making of Modern India. H-Environment, H-Net Reviews. April, 2021.


Courses Taught

STSC 160 - The Information Age (Grader, Spring 2021)

STSC 001 - The Emergence of Modern Science (Teaching Assistant, Fall 2020)

HSOC 112 - The People's Health (Teaching Assistant, Spring 2020)

HSOC 002 - Medicine in History (Teaching Assistant, Fall 2019)


Faculty Bookshelf