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A science in translation: homoeopathy in colonial Bengal

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Over the years, robust and divergent strands of South Asian scholarship have studied the relationship between science, medicine and colonialism. The translation of western medical texts into South Asian vernacular languages under the patronage of the colonial state has received considerable attention. What has not been explored adequately, however, is the participation of Indians themselves in processes of scientific translation. As an instance of a western science that the colonial state attempted to censor, the popular practices of translation around homoeopathy provide a distinct narrative of western science’s colonial reception. This paper traces the efforts of some late nineteenth-century Indian pharmaceutical-firms to translate homoeopathy for a vernacular Bengali audience. It explores the domestication and indigenisation of homoeopathy, with its roots in Germany, in Bengal, through such acts of scientific translation. The paper shows that at one level translation reified the power and superiority of western science and language (mostly English) as global and universal categories. Simultaneously, these Bengali translations contested the universal status of western science by reinterpreting homoeopathy as profane, local and indigenous to Bengal.

This talk is part of the Twentieth Century Think Tank series.

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