History of Science in Early South Asia

Please set your timezone at https://www.chstm.org/user

Consortium Respectful Behavior Policy

Participants at Consortium activities will treat each other with respect and consideration to create a collegial, inclusive, and professional environment that is free from any form of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.

Participants will avoid any inappropriate actions or statements based on individual characteristics such as age, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, nationality, political affiliation, ability status, educational background, or any other characteristic protected by law. Disruptive or harassing behavior of any kind will not be tolerated. Harassment includes but is not limited to inappropriate or intimidating behavior and language, unwelcome jokes or comments, unwanted touching or attention, offensive images, photography without permission, and stalking.

Participants may send reports or concerns about violations of this policy to conduct@chstm.org.

Upcoming Meetings

There are no currently scheduled upcoming events.

Past Meetings

  • April 17, 2023

    Speaker: Dr Cristina Pecchia, University of Vienna and  Austrian Academy of Sciences
    Topic: Ayurveda and Philology: Gangadhar Ray Kaviraj and His Legacy.*
    The wide spreading and popularization of Ayurveda makes it more urgent to gain a deeper understanding of the formative stages that led to the present configuration of this medical tradition. In this talk I will present the research project “Ayurveda and Philology: Gangadhar Ray Kaviraj and His Legacy”, which aims at exploring the interplay between Ayurveda and the Sanskritic culture during the colonial period. Its main focus is Gangadhar Ray Kaviraj (1798–1885), who was editor and commentator of the Carakasamhita. The project will study Gangadhar’s editorial and interpretative activity and his legacy in the making of modern Ayurveda, with special regard to practices and dynamics concerning texts and the context of their production.
    * The project is based at the University of Vienna and funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF)


    p { line-height: 115%; margin-bottom: 0.25cm; background: transparent }

  • March 20, 2023

    Speaker: Dr Lisa Brooks, Killam Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Alberta
    Topic:  Classification, Coagency, and Care: Human-Leech Medicine in Early South Asia
    Abstract: Leeches and humans have a long history of medical entanglement. For over two thousand years and across a range of geographical and cultural spaces, leeches have been regarded by humans as a both a venomous nuisance and a medical technology. The oldest and most detailed surviving description of leech therapy is found in an early first-millennium Sanskrit treatise focused on surgery, theSuśrutasaṃhitā. In this treatise, non-venomous leeches are listed as a type of medical tool, an accessory or substitute sharp instrument (anuśastra) for surgical practice, and as the gentlest method of bloodletting. But the treatise also highlights their nature as living beings by detailing how a physician should interpret leech behavior and care for them. The way in which leeches and human-leech interactions are portrayed reveal a range of attitudes about physicians’ sensory expertise, the nature of leeches, and what constitutes medical agency or a medical technology. The talk will explore how textual representations of leeches challenge early ayurvedic classificatory schemes, and the ways that, in practice, leeches push against the notion of locating medical agency solely in the realm of the human.

  • March 6, 2023

    Special session for the discussion of future directions for the history of science in early SA, and especially funding.

  • February 20, 2023

    Speaker: Anthony Cerulli, Professor of South Asian Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
    Topic:  We will discuss Prof. Cerulli's new monograph, The Practice of Texts: Education and Healing in South India (University of California Press, 2022).  The book is available as Open Access in several formats.

  • January 16, 2023

    Speaker: Dr Andrey Klebanov
    Title: Textual parallels between the compendia of Caraka and Suśruta: What can we learn from them?

  • December 19, 2022

    Speaker: Dr Vitus Angermeier, PI at the FWF Project "Epidemics and Crisis Management in Pre-modern South Asia", University of Vienna
    Topic:  Epidemiology in the Bhelasaṃhitā – the chapter on distinctions according to land and people
    Note: Dr Angermeier's presentation, "A contagion theory in the Hārītasaṃhita? The chapter on upasarga." originally scheduled for March 20,. 2023, has now been postponed until September.

  • November 21, 2022

    Speaker: Lucy May Constantini
    Title: Understanding Text in Relation to the Embodied Practice of Kaḷarippayaṟṟ˘: investigating alternative methodologies
    Kaḷarippayaṟṟ˘ is a martial art with an allied medical system that originated in South India in the Malabar region of what is now the modern state of Kerala. Its long and complex history includes a revival from near-extinction in the early twentieth century when a few practitioners gathered and systematised what knowledge remained, both practice and text. Malabar kaḷarippayaṟṟ˘ evinces a particular relationship between its inherited texts and lived practice. A kaḷarippayaṟṟ˘ gurukkaḷ (lineage-holder) carries the responsibility of preserving and transmitting the lineage, and, regardless of any reverence for inherited manuscripts, the final śāstric authority of the kaḷari resides in the gurukkaḷ’s body and practice. As such, written texts only partially represent a kaḷari’s śāstra, which is only complete when informed by the experience of embodied practice. To date there has been little academic enquiry into the texts of kaḷarippayaṟṟ˘, in part because of the inaccessibility of kaḷari paramparā manuscripts, which introduces further complication.  

    This talk will present a brief survey of known kaḷarippayaṟṟ˘ texts and discuss the methodologies I have evolved to collect and analyse discrete sections of otherwise closely- guarded texts from the CVN lineage that is the chief focus of my research. I will discuss these and their working translations, which are still evolving as part of my PhD project. This textual analysis has been guided by Dr. SAS Sarma at l'École française d'Extrême-Orient at Pondicherry.  

    My PhD is at the Open University in the UK, exploring the relationship between practice and textual traditions in kaḷarippayaṟṟ˘, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Open-Oxford-Cambridge Doctoral Training Partnership. This interdisciplinary research encompasses ethnography, drawing on a relationship since 2002 with CVN Kalari in Thiruvananthapuram, and the study of manuscripts in Malayalam and Sanskrit. My background is in dance and somatic practices, where my work investigates the confluence of my praxes of postmodern dance, martial arts and yoga.  

    You can read more about Lucy's PhD project here: http://www.open.ac.uk/people/lmc662

  • October 17, 2022

    Speaker: Dr Charu Singh, Dept. of History, Stanford University (from January 2023: Assistant Professor, Dept. History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge)
    Title: When science became vijñāna: Redescriptions of knowledge in colonial north India, 1915–1935.
    See attached papers, all in the zip file:

    • Charu Singh, "When science became vijñāna: Redescriptions of knowledge in colonial north India, 1915–1935."  Abstract.
    • Elshakry, M. (2010) “When Science Became Western: Historiographical Reflections,” Isis 101: 98–109. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/652691.
    • Menon, M. (2021) “Indigenous Knowledges and Colonial Sciences in South Asia,” South Asian History and Culture. 13: 1–18.

    • Pollock, S. (2011) “The Languages of Science in Early Modern India,” in Forms of Knowledge in Early Modern Asia: Explorations in the Intellectual History of India and Tibet, 1500–1800. Durham NC and London: Duke University Press, pp. 19–48.

    Dr Singh will make a 30-minute presentation on the discussions and reflections on vijñāna in the Hindi-language science monthly that she studies, Vigyan. She requests that we combine this presentation with a group discussion on the readings above.  
    Dr Singh says: "In choosing programmatic work in the global history of science (Elshakry) with South Asian reflections on knowledge categories (Pollock, Menon), I'm hoping we can all together think through the problem presented by several cognates of "science" across premodern and modern South Asia. In addition, I'm hoping that the empirical evidence I will provide for one such knowledge category can serve as a case study for our discussion."

  • September 19, 2022


  • June 20, 2022

    Speaker: Dr Ranee Prakash, Senior Curator - Flowering Plants, Dept of Life Sciences. Natural History Museum, London
    Title: Ethnobotanical insights from an historical herbarium: the Samuel Browne collections from Early Modern India
    Abstract: TBA
    See the attached article for background,

    • Winterbottom, Anna, and Ranee Prakash. 2020. “Samuel Browne.” In The Collectors: Creating Hans Sloane’s Extraordinary Herbarium, edited by Mark Carine, 168–173. London: Natural History Museum.


Group Conveners

  • labrooks's picture

    Lisa Brooks

    Lisa Allette Brooks is a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Alberta and the recipient of the Dorothy Killam Memorial Postdoctoral Prize, as well as a 2022-2023 AAS Pipeline Fellowship. Lisa’s current project, Leech TroubleTherapeutic Entanglements in More-Than-Human Medicines, is a historical and textual study of human-leech medicine in South Asia and a comparative ethnographic study of leech therapy in contemporary ayurvedic medicine and biomedicine. Lisa’s work has been published in the Asian Review of World HistoriesMedical Anthropology QuarterlyAsian Medicine and in the edited volume Fluid Matter(s) by ANU press (eds. Kuriyama and Koehle). Lisa co-edited a special issue of Asian Medicine, “Medicines and Memories in South Asia” 15.1 (2020) and is the South Asia book review editor for the journal Asian Medicine and reviews editor for History of Science in South Asia. In 2021 Lisa completed a PhD in South and Southeast Asian Studies with Designated Emphases in Science and Technology Studies, and in Women, Gender, and Sexuality at UC Berkeley. Lisa'a interests include multispecies medicine, histories of health, healing, and embodiment, queer and feminist science studies, and sensory studies.



164 Members