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Issue No.: 572 | February 2015

Why No Department of History of Science?

Any study of classical Egypt, Greece or China would naturally include accomplishments in all those fields, so why are most of our Indian historians so shy of dealing with them? I believe plain ignorance of India’s traditional knowledge systems is one factor; this attitude is largely a subconscious relic of the colonial era, which had decreed that India’s literatures were vehicles of superstition rather than of any genuine knowledge. As a result, most scholars prefer to confine themselves to an overview of literature and the arts. Yet scientific and technological advances are of equal importance; ironically, we owe the first studies of them to a few fine European scholars of the 18th and 19th centuries, such as Jean-Sylvain Bailly, Henry Thomas Colebrooke, G. Thibaut or Léon Rodet. Indian scholars followed with major contributions, but Independent India did little to promote the field: no Indian university has a department of history of science. Indeed, scholars from the U.S., France, Japan or New Zealand have in recent years contributed important studies to the field. On the other hand, most of their Indian colleagues – thankfully there have been quite a few and of a very high order – have worked with little or no institutional support. It is hard to understand why... Michel Danino, author of books on ancient India, is guest professor at Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar. 

Contributed by Ramnath Narayanan.





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