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Why and how did debates about the form and disposition of our Earth shape our sense of selves and being in the world in colonial modernity? Sumathi Ramaswamy explores this question for British India with the aid of the terrestrial globe, which since the sixteenth century has circulated as a worldly symbol, a scientific instrument, and not least, as an educational tool for inculcating planetary consciousness.
In her book Terrestrial Lessons, Ramaswamy provides the first in-depth analysis of the globe’s history and impact on the Indian subcontinent during the colonial era and afterwards. Drawing on a wide array of archival sources, she describes its transformation from a thing of distinction possessed by elite men into that mass-produced commodity used in classrooms worldwide—the humble school globe.
Adopting a methodology drawn from recent object theory, the book demonstrates how a modern planetary awareness was cultivated in schools across India and became central to colonial pedagogy. The terrestrial lessons conducted with the aid of the school globe also constituted the earliest form of science education in the subcontinent. This is also the first study of the globe as it left the shores of Europe to travel to and circulate in the Indian subcontinent.
Traversing the length and breadth of British India, Terrestrial Lessons is an unconventional history of this master object of pedagogical modernity that will fascinate historians of cartography, science, and Asian studies.
Prof. Sumathi Ramaswamy in conversation with Prof. Sandeep Banerjee
Sumathi Ramaswamy is James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of History and International Comparative Studies, and Chair of the Department of History, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA. She has published extensively on language politics, gender studies, spatial studies and the history of cartography, visual studies and the modern history of art, and more recently, digital humanities and the history of philanthropy. Her most recent monograph is Gandhi in the Gallery: The Art of Disobedience (New Delhi: Roli Books, 2020). For more on her, visit https://scholars.duke.
Sandeep Banerjee is Associate Professor of English at McGill University. He is the author of Space, Utopia and Indian Decolonization: Literary Pre-Figurations of the Postcolony (Routledge, 2019). His research, typically focused on colonial and postcolonial South Asia, engages problems of literary aesthetics; the production of space and nature; and Marxism and anti-colonial thought. His articles have been published in Modern Asian Studies, Victorian Literature and Culture, Mediations, and New Global Studies in addition to several anthologies. He is a General Editor of the Routledge Series in the Cultures of the Global Cold War, and a member of the editorial collective of the journal positions: asia critique (Duke UP) .