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CSS colloquium: Sunayana Maiti, University of Calcutta

Science as an Instrument of Empire: Development of Scientific and Industrial Research around the Second World War in British India

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Wednesday 28 October 2015,  at 14:15 - 15:45


Koll. G (1532-314)

Eminent historian of science Roy MacLeod rightly points outs that sixty years ago the history of science and history of colonialism lived in separate spheres but by the 1970s and 1980s came a change in perspective and methods of doing history of science by many scholars. The relationship between the expansion of Empire and the cultivation of science and technology for economic advantage and political control as an idea is by now to a certain extent established by recent scholarship in history of science and technology (especially in the 1990s and early 2000s).

This paper is an extension to that school of scholarship, which tries to show how even in the last days of imperial rule the British Government tried to exercise administrative control in India while introducing a centralized system of science and technology in the name of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The Second World War brought with it dramatic changes in world scenario. In India the process of decolonization set in and imperialism had to give way to independence. The period around the Second World War saw immense development of science and technology all over the world and India too saw the beginning of a centralized scientific organization. Though colonial India entered into the arena of cultivation of modern science and technology, India witnessed no major scientific break-through. The essay tries to locate the roots of such cause i.e. why in spite of the establishment of the CSIR no major scientific breakthroughs occurred in India when in the West major inventions like jeep, radar, rockets and most importantly the atom bomb was invented? It also tries to find answers to questions like, what was the real reason behind the establishment of the CSIR in India and what motivated the British government to come out of its monolithic exploitative nature of using Indian resources in the name of scientific development? Was this new venture another instrument/tool of exploitation? What were the factors (both indigenous and international) operating during this time that led to the initiation of a centralized industrial research system in India by the British who hitherto never had any proper planning for the development of technical education and scientific research in India?