Fossil Histories:

Palaeobotany and the Making of a Scientific Discipline in Twentieth-Century India


Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence & Max-Planck-Institut

17 May 2021


On 17 May 2021, Dr Amelia Bonea delivered an online lecture as part of the 4A Lab Seminar. A collaboration between the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the Forum Transregionale Studien, this interdisciplinary program attempts to link together Art History, Archaeology, Anthropology/Ethnology, and Aesthetic Practices (4A), as well as other disciplines concerned with objects, practices, ecologies, and narratives (OPEN).

Abstract of the talk

The post-WWII period witnessed new developments in the institutionalization and professionalization of palaeobotany, a highly interdisciplinary science of the past that investigates plant fossils across a wide geological timescale. Among these were a growing recognition of palaeobotany as a field of study, an increase in the number of palaeobotanists and palaeobotanical laboratories as well as the establishment of separate professional associations and scientific journals that aimed to mark off this discipline from its cognates botany and geology. In 1946, India became one of the two countries in the world, along with the United States, to establish an institution of education dedicated entirely to palaeobotany. Named after its founder, a Cambridge-educated scientist of international repute, the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany in Lucknow has since morphed into an autonomous institution of research in palaeosciences supported by the Government of India. The talk ponders the reasons for this unique development against the political and socio-economic background of post-independence India, reconstructing the international scientific networks that underpinned the establishment of the institute as well as the research on the history of plant life conducted there. The discussion will also highlight the role of women in Earth Sciences and the institutionalization of science in post-colonial India more generally.

%d bloggers like this: