Graduate Student

Entered 2018

Claudia Cohen Hall 330

Education

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

My interests lie at the intersection of the history of chemistry, agriculture, and the environment in late colonial India, though my curiosity stretches much wider. The First World War first captured my historical imagination, and I continue to be fascinated with how this pivotal event reshaped global empires, social orders, scientific practice, and random cultural phenomena (the use of Cubist art to disguise Allied naval vessels, known as dazzle, is probably my favorite) for the rest of the twentieth century. Previously, I studied how the war kickstarted British Imperial responses to the nitrogen problem, or the global crisis of the scarcity of nitrogen, a critical component of both fertilizers and explosives. This manifested itself especially in colonial India, which was undergoing its own agricultural modernization of sorts, and administrators were eager to see how nitrogen could facilate an expansion in production of the local sugar industry. My argument is that these colonialists seized the First World War as a moment of opportunity and used science to enact their vision of the future of agriculture in India, which has parallels to development regimes that historians of South Asia tend to associate with the post-independence period.

 

For my graduate career, I aim to examine how nitrogen, as an imperial metric and a kind of fictitious capital, came to wield incredible explanatory power in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, in areas as diverse as agricultural development, nutrition, and race science. I seek to trace the circulation in nitrogen products--a global ecological metabolism, so to speak--as a historical phenomenon that linked Europe, Latin America, and South Asia. In the era before efficient synthetic nitrogen production and protein chemistry, I intend to uncover the imaginative possibilities that were invested in nitrogen to articulate the future of empire.

 

At the University of Pennsylvania, I am a co-coordinator (with Koyna Tomar, HSS) of the Science Beyond the West Working Group in the Department of History and Sociology of Science. For 2019-20, I am also a co-convener (with Knar Gavin, English) of the Anthropocene and Animal Studies Reading Group, sponsored by the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities. Finally, I am an active member of Penn Flutes, the university's flute choir.

 

Prior to beginning graduate school, I studied chemistry and history at Washington University in St. Louis. As a Merle Kling Undergraduate Honors Fellow, I was involved in several capacities with the Center for the Humanities at WashU. This experience, as well as being a member of Phi Beta Kappa and working for two years as a program associate at the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS)--a non-profit organization that supports advanced research in the humanities--left me with a deep commitment towards multidisciplinary inquiry and the value of a liberal arts education.

Research Interests

history of the chemical sciences, South Asian history, environmental history, colonialism and empire, global history of science, history of agriculture, food studies, animal studies, history of technology, infrastructure studies, history of the human sciences

Courses Taught

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

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