Pulling the Heavens Down to Earth: A Conversation with S. Prashant Kumar
Join us to explore how astronomy, math, and more are embedded in political contexts, cultural practices, and forms of labor.
About the Event
Mathematics and astronomy are often taught as packaged universal truths, independent of time and context. Their history is assumed to be one of revelations and discoveries, beginning with the Greeks and reaching final maturity in modern Europe. This narrative has been roundly critiqued for decades, but the work of rewriting these histories has only just begun.
Join us for a conversation with S. Prashant Kumar, Postdoctoral Researcher at UChicago's Institute on the Formation of Knowledge, to explore the growing literature on the history of mathematics and astronomy in regions which now make up the global south. We will examine how mathematical and astronomical knowledge conjoined and how both were embedded in political contexts, cultural practices, and forms of labor.
The conversation will preview Kumar's forthcoming winter quarter class in the Graham School's open enrollment program.
S. Prashant Kumar
Postdoctoral Researcher, Institute on the Formation of Knowledge
S. Prashant Kumar is a social and intellectual historian of science and empire, whose work examines the intersections between mathematics, astronomy, technology, and race. His current book project, The Time There: Empire and the Exact Sciences, seeks to understand how astronomical and mathematical knowledge became key to the political economy of colonial rule in South Asia, and how labour and caste relationships shaped the everyday practices of astronomy and mathematics. It was not just “Western science” that determined this story: in order to measure and distribute time, the British empire relied upon existing, caste-bound forms of knowledge and skill, from jyotiśāstra[Sanskrit astral science] to artisanal metallurgy. Following the exact sciences from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century, the book goes on to examine how these sciences came to be used to make historical claims about mythic events and races, by colonized and colonizer alike, tracing continuities between colonial knowledge projects and the cosmology of modern Hindutva, or right-wing Hindu nationalism. Prior to joining the IFK, he was a Research Scholar at the Archives at NCBS, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bangalore; a Postdoctoral Fellow in Global Intellectual History at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin; and a Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Haverford College. Dr. Kumar received his PhD in History and Sociology of Science from the University of Pennsylvania in August 2021.