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Translating Science in Colonial North India, c.1890-1950

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How did western scientific knowledge travel and translate across languages and imperial geographies in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries? Are some languages inherently more able vehicles of scientific ideas than others, and therefore, more modern? Does the universalization of western science and the spread of English as the global language of science have a history?

In my talk, I examine these questions in the context of the translation of western science into one regional language (Hindi) in colonial South Asia. At the turn of the twentieth century, Hindi intellectuals perceived a lack of scientific ideas within their language. They aimed to fulfil this absence by translating, writing and publishing on scientific subjects in Hindi. This took the form of bringing out a science monthly dedicated to communicating ideas to an emerging reading public; writing textbooks for use in schools; and the coining of new words as equivalents for western scientific terms to aid translation.

While imperial science was often produced in the name of colonial publics, how was scientific knowledge communicated to Indian audiences? If the production of scientific knowledge has been generally studied within the scientific surveys, departments and institutions of the British Indian state, I will raise the problem of the reception and reinterpretation of knowledge in the Hindi public sphere. I will underline the significance of language and translation in the global circulations and gradual universalization of western scientific discourse.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Group series.

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