Prof Pratik Chakrabarti FRHistS

Chair in History of Science, Tech & Mdcn

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Research interests

My research specializations are in the history of medicine, science and global and imperial history, spanning South Asian, Caribbean and Atlantic history from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. My most recent research monograph is Inscriptions of Nature: Geology and the Naturalization of Antiquitypublished by Johns Hopkins University Press (2020). The monograph is based on the major Leverhulme trust funded project; 'An Antique Land; Geology, Philology and the Making of the Indian Subcontinent, 1830-1920', of which I was the Principal Investigator. The grant was for the period 2013-2016. The book captures the historical moment when the past became naturalised. In doing so, it challenges the way we have imagined the relationship between nature and history. It argues that how we think about the past became indelibly stained by our ideas of the history of nature, landscape and geography in the nineteenth century. The book also argues that due to this naturalization of the past, geomythologies acquired powerful naturalised motifs in India. This became especially vivid and articulated in the nineteenth century when myths were linked to specific geographical sites and geological phenomenon. In other words, myths appeared real as they were inscribed into the landscape and thereby into the deep past of the nation. For this project, I worked with Dr Joydeep Sen who was my RA. Cam Sharp Jones is completing her PhD (Colonial ethnography and human antiquity in India, 1820-1900) funded by the project

Prior to my Leverhulme Trust funded project, my research was funded by the Wellcome Trust University Award, ‘Laboratory Medical Research in Colonial India, 1890-1950’, funded by the Wellcome Trust, November 2005, Grant: 078703/Z/05/Z. The project was active for the period 2006-2012.

Apart from my recent book, I have published four other sole-authored monographs. My first book, Western Science in Modern India: Metropolitan Methods, Colonial Practices (2004) was based on my PhD dissertation. Beginning in the eighteenth century, this book reveals a process of knowledge-transfer that involved European surgeons, missionaries and surveyors and Indian nationalist scientists. In the process, it demonstrates how modern science became the idiom of Indian nationhood and modernity. 

My second monograph, Materials and Medicine: Trade, Conquest and Therapeutics in the Eighteenth Century was published in 2010. Through a study of the expansion of British colonialism in the West Indies and South Asia, it explores how medicine was transformed in the eighteenth century in the context of war and commerce and acquired new medical materials as well as a distinct materialism.

My third monograph, Bacteriology in British India: Laboratory Medicine and the Tropics, (2012) is based on the research for a major project; the  Wellcome Trust University Award on ‘Laboratory Medical Research in Colonial India 1890-1950’ at the University of Kent, 2006-2011. The book provides a social and cultural history of bacteriology and vaccination in colonial India, situating it at the confluence of colonial medical practices, institutionalization and social and cultural movements.

While teaching the history of medicine and imperialism, I realised that although there has been prolific new research on colonial medicine in recent years there was a need for a synoptic and thorough analysis of the field. Consequently, I wrote Medicine and Empire, 1600-1960, which was published in 2014 by Palgrave MacMillan. The book provides a global history of imperial medicine focussing on British, French and Spanish empires in Africa, Asia and America from the seventeenth to the twentieth century.

Projects

Research and projects