Monopolizing Knowledge: The East India Company and Britain's Second Scientific Revolution

Jessica Ratcliff

University of Toronto

Wednesday, November 15, 2023 2:00 pm EST

Victoria College
91 Charles Street West
Toronto, ON M5S 1K7

You are cordially invited to attend the Fall 2023 Colloquium series of the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, expertly organized by Professor Elise K. Burton. The IHPST Colloquium provides a platform for both visiting and local scholars to present their latest research in the fields of history, philosophy, and science and technology studies.
The second talk we will host this semester (Nov.15) is entitled "Monopolizing Knowledge: The East India Company and Britain's Second Scientific Revolution" by Professor Jessica Ratcliff from Cornell University. A brief bio of Professor Ratcliff and an abstract of the talk can be found at the end of this message. Please note that this is a hybrid event, and you may choose to attend either in person virtually via Zoom. To get the link please contact
What is the connection between the spectacular expansion of Britain’s empire in Asia and the equally unprecedented growth of science in Britain the nineteenth century? Historians generally agree that a key element of this connection lies in the ways that colonialism enable the extraction of knowledge resources from people and environments around the world and their accumulation back in the economic centers of empire such as London. Less known is particular role played by the British East India Company and its monopoly in the growing global trade in knowledge resources in this period.  This talk investigates the changing patterns of knowledge resource management at the British East India Company, focusing on the significance of those changes for Britain’s “second scientific revolution” in the nineteenth century. It covers the years between the Company’s takeover of Bengal in 1757 and the loss of its monopoly rights in 1833.  At the beginning of the period, the Company generally depended upon individuals for the historical, linguistic, navigational, botanical, medical and other sciences upon which their operations depended. By the end of the period, the Company had taken over the direct management and production of many domains of colonial science. Along the way, the Company would become a key institution of science in London, establishing around 1800 a library, museum and two colleges in Britain. In this talk, I will first give an overview of the changing structure and geography of science under the Company. I will then focus on the debate over whether and how the Company’s library-museum should be rendered a “public” resource after 1833, when its property was formally transferred to the crown.
Jessica Ratcliff is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University. She works on the social history of science in Britain and its former empire, and is the author of The Transit of Venus Enterprise in Victorian Britain.
Hybrid event.
Wednesday, November 25, 2023, 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm - Victoria College, 91 Charles Street West, Room VC115