Centre for World Environmental History

Science, humanism and the making of modern India

The digital exhibition, drawing on an exhibition launched in the Indian Museum, Kolkata in January 2023, explores for the first time the development of interdisciplinary debates around genetics, cytology, botany and eugenics in the mid-20th Century, and the network of scientists that emerged in Britain and India and the unrecognised contribution of Western-trained colonial scientists including the role of a pioneering Indian woman scientist, E.K. Janaki Ammal. The debates centred around a reassessment of the role of humans in the natural world, with positive and negative connotations. The eugenics movement attempted to control human evolution in racist and ableist directions, while post-war environmentalism alerted the world to the reality of environmental threats.

One of the aims of the exhibition is to re-examine the practices of science in this period by exploring the role of race, gender and indigenous knowledge from the colonies in the cross-fertilisation of ideas. Based on 60 photographs, many of them previously unseen, and held in collections such as the John Innes Centre, Bodleian and the BSI, it establishes the context for the scientific and political landscape that frames these movements and welcomes you to reflect on the issues raised throughout the exhibition with a series of questions.

The following links go to the University's research repository where the artefacts of the exhibition are stored.