Director: Health and Societies
PhD, School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London
MPhil, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
MA, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
BA, Presidency College, Calcutta
My training was firmly within the Subaltern Studies tradition and I continue to work within that tradition of scholarship. I am therefore interested in issues of marginality and marginalization both within and through science. People and knowledges who are disempowered are the main subject of my studies. My twin ambition is to write histories of science that are anti-colonial without being nationalist or identitarian.
In my first monograph, Nationalizing the Body (London: 2009), I wrote about the South Asian doctors and medical subordinates who were employed in the lower echelons of the colonial medical establishment in British India. I highlighted their creativitiy, agency and politics in vernacularizing 'western' medicine so as to meet local realities. In my second monograph, Doctoring Traditions (Chicago: 2016), I explored how Ayurvedic medicine modernized under colonialism. While focusing on the agency and creativity of the Ayurvedic physicians of the colonial era, I also acknowledged their political exclusions as well as their intellectual engagement with "western" intellectual traditions.
Currently, I am working on a history of human difference and race in 20th century South Asia. This touches on the histories of physical anthropology, evolutionary biology, human genetics and archeogenetics. My dual aim is to both recover the repressed stories of Indian pioneers of genetics as well as to uncover how the politics of race, indigeneity and biocolonialism play out in the South Asian context.
The issues of identity and inheritance raised by the current project has also lured me into the parallel histories of forensics and parapsychology which, in various ways, provided orthogonal ways of thinking about these topics. These also resonate with an older and inchoate interest in science and enchantment.
Finally, I have an interest in the history of chemistry in 19th century Bengal. I am particularly interested in how modernized parachemical traditions such as rasayana and kimiya resonated with vernacularized forms of "modern chemistry". This history overlaps at multiple points with both my interest in medical history and the histories of bodily difference.
- Race Science
- Disease Ecologies
- Physical Anthropology
- Science & the Supernatural
- Forensic Science
- Nineteenth-Century Chemistry
- Colonial & Indigenous Medicines
- 2022. Brown Skins, White Coats: Race Science in India, 1920-66, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- 2016. Doctoring Traditions: Ayurveda, Small Technologies, and Braided Sciences, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- 2009. Nationalizing the Body: The Medical Market, Print and Daktari Medicine, London: Anthem Press [PB 2011, Indian Edn. 2012].
- 2012. Medical Marginality in South Asia: Situating Subaltern Therapeutics, co-edited with David Hardiman, Abingdon: Routledge, Intersections: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories Series.
- 2010. Crossing Colonial Historiographies: Histories of Colonial and Indigenous Medicines in Transnational Perspective, co-edited with Waltraud Ernst and Anne Digby, Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
- 2008. Football: From England to the World, co-edited with Dolores Martinez, London: Routledge.
Select Chapters in Edited Volumes:
- 2019. "Handwriting Analysis as a Dynamic Artisanal Science: The Hardless Detective Dynasty and the Forensic Cultures of the British Raj". In Ian Burney and Christopher Hamlin eds. Global Forensic Cultures: Making Fact and Justice in the Modern Era, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 86-111.
2018. "Olden Times: Watches, Watchmaking and Temporal Culture in Calcutta, c. 1757-1857". In Sarvani Gooptu and Ishita Banerjee eds. On Modern Indian Sensibilities: Culture, Politics, History, New Delhi: Routledge, 99-120.
- 2018. "Vernacularizing Political Medicine: Locating the Medical Betwixt the Literal and the Literary in Two Texts on the Burdwan Fever, Bengal, c. 1870s". In Rohan Deb Roy and Guy Attewell eds. Locating the Medical: Explorations in South Asian History, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 235-63.
Select Journal Articles:
- "Darwin's Bulbuls: South Asian Cultures of Bird-fighting and Darwin's Theory of Sexual Selection": BJHS Themes, Special Issue: Descent of Darwin: Race, Sex and Human Nature, 6, 63-79.
- "Search for 'Context': Commodities, Consumption and Abul Hasant's Material Sexscape", South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, Special Issue: Translating Sex: Sexology and Indian History, 1880-1960, 44:1, 1-20.
- “Open Conversations: Diversifying the Discipline or Disciplining Diversity? A Roundtable Discussion on Collecting Demographics Data”, co-authored with Myrna Perez Sheldon et al., Isis, 111:2, 310-53.
- "Historicizing 'Indian Systems of Knowledge': Ayurveda, Erotic Foods, and Contemporary Antihistorical Holisms", Osiris, Special Issue: Food Matters: Critical Histories of the Food Sciences, 35, 228-48.
- "Bloodworlds: A Hematology of the 1952 Indo-Australian Genetical Survey of the Chenchus", Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, Special Issue: Southern Topologies and Genealogies: Genetic Explorations of the Pacific, 50:5, 525-53.
"Hylozoic Anticolonialism: Archaic Modernity, Internationalism, and Electromagnetism in British Bengal, 1909-1940", Osiris, Special Issue: "Presenting Futures Past: Science Fiction and the History of Science", 34:1, 101-20.
"Akarnan: The Stethoscope and Making of Modern Ayurveda, Bengal, c. 1894-1952", Technology and Culture, 60:4, 953-78.
- “Occulted Materialities”, History and Technology, Special Issue: “Thinking with the World: Histories of Science and Technology from ‘Out There’”, 34:1, 31-40.
“The Flame and the Breeze: Life and Longevity Practices in Three Bengali Sufi Texts from the Long Seventeenth Century”, History of Science in South Asia, 5:2, 232-61.
"Cat and Mouse: Animal Technologies, Trans-Imperial Networks and Public Health from Below, British India, c. 1907-1918", Social History of Medicine, 31:3, 510-32.
- “The Bengali Pharaoh: Upper-Caste Aryanism, Pan-Egyptianism, and the Contested History of Biometric Nationalism in Twentieth-Century Bengal”, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 59:2, 446-76.
- “Vernacularizing the Body: Informational Egalitarianism, Hindu Divine Design and Race in Physiology School Books, Bengal 1859-1877”, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 91:3, 554-85.
- "Parachemistries: Colonial Chemopolitics in a Zone of Contest", History of Science, 54:4, 1-21.
- “Feringhee Dharma: Augustinians, Amerindians and a Bengali deity in an early modern Iberian world”, South Asian History & Culture, 7:1, 37-54.
- “Profiling the Profiloscope: Facialization of Race Technologies and the Rise of Biometric Nationalism in Inter-war British India”, History and Technology, 31:4, 376-96.
- "Technospatial Imaginaries: Masud Rana and the Vernacularization of Popular Cold War Geopolitics in East Pakistan, 1966-1971", History and Technology, 31:3, 324-40.
- "Swapnaushadhi: The Embedded Logic of Dreams and Medical Innovation in Bengal", Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, 38:3, 387-407.
- "From Serosocial to Sanguinary Identities: Caste, Transnational Race Science and the Shifting Metonymies of Blood Group B, India c. 1918-60", Indian Economic and Social History Review, 51:2, 143-76.
- "Vishalyakarani as E. Ayapana:Retro-Botanizing, Embedded Traditions and Multiple Historicities of Plants in Colonial Bengal, 1890-1940", Journal of Asian Studies, 73:1, 65-87.
- "Munisipal Darpan: Imagining the Embodied State and Subaltern Citizenship in 1890s Calcutta", South Asian History & Culture, 4:1, 31-47.
- "In-Disciplining Jwarasur: The Folk/Classical Divide and the Transmateriality of Fevers in Colonial Bengal", Indian Economic and Social History Review, 50:3, 261-88.
- “The ‘Cholera Cloud’ in the Nineteenth Century ‘British World’: History of an Object-without-an-essence”, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 86:3, 303-32.
- “Lokman, Chholeman and Manik Pir: Multiple Frames of Institutionalizing Islamic Medicine in Modern Bengal”, Social History of Medicine, 24:3, 720-38.
- “Babon Gaji’s Many Pasts: The Adventures of a Historian in a Counter-Archive”, Contemporary South Asia, 18:1, 89-104.
Graduate Group Member:
- Department of History
- Department of Religious Studies
- Department of South Asian Studies
- Medical History
- Race Science
- History of Genetics
- Postcolonial Science
- Law & Medicine
- Disease Ecologies
- Comparative Medicine
- Law & Medicine
- Botanic Empire: Plants and Empire, c. 1750-1950
- Other Reasons: Science & the Supernatural