The seminar time will be split between the two speakers.
“J. C. Bose’s hand-machines: Instrumentation as the transcendence of limits in Presidency College”
Jagadish Chandra Bose’s intellectual novelty is much-discussed, as is the severely limiting infrastructural conditions of Presidency College and level of experimental science present at the time in India, under which he produced such genius. Another often-asserted dimension of his work is the seamless mixing of demonstrative science with Indian philosophical deductions. In this presentation, I seek to bring together these apparently disparate concerns, and argue that, Bose was indeed imagining a science and philosophy of universality—connecting organic and inorganic life—despite and also enabled by limits. It was precisely because of the absence of ready-made instruments of competing international standards or even an appropriate laboratory space, that Bose engaged in the highly original minute manual construction of apparatuses for his electromagnetic radio wave and plant research, in the smallest possible available space in Presidency College, and with the aid of an illiterate tinsmith. These instruments were subsequently deemed by scientists all over the world, as possessing remarkable sensitivity and precision. They achieved immense demonstrative magnitudes: reducing Hertzian electromagnetic waves to an unprecedented miniscule level of 50,000 million vibrations per second, and calculating moment-to-moment imperceptible plant movements to 10 million times in less than a second. Both these achievements in extremes were about transcending the limited bodies of the hand-made small instruments to anticipate smallest and largest ether wave potentials. Further, Bose understood such instrumental perfection as acting through and transcending three kinds of limits: of the sensory body whose frontiers were extended to extrasensory wave-fields, Presidency’s institutional space which was becoming globally renowned despite its several bureaucratic and infrastructural lacks, and the colonized situation which derived hope towards political and spiritual autonomy through the use of ‘Indian hands’ and their spontaneous and deft craftsmanship. The body, institution, nation and instrument were thus analogues in embodying transcendence through limits. Modern appropriations of Vedantic discourses on instrumentality and the hands, much like Kantian understandings of manuality, especially help to analyze ways in which Bose’s equipment, hand-assembled in Presidency College, stretched immanent limits towards scientific, philosophical and political transcendence.
“The Multi-Institutional Form of Presidency College”
When the Presidency College of Calcutta was established by the East India Company’s government in 1855, none of the Indian universities had yet come into existence. In the years to come, apart from offering undergraduate and postgraduate teaching in the Arts and the Sciences, the college also held classes in Law and Engineering, which later branched out to give birth to the Law department of the University of Calcutta and the Bengal Engineering College in the late-nineteenth century. When the University of Calcutta was restructured from a degree-granting body to an institution for postgraduate teaching in the early-twentieth century, the Presidency College—especially with reference to its pedagogic practices of tutorials and seminars—was considered as the model for this becoming of the University. In the following decades, two of India’s earliest and significant research institutes—the Bose Institute founded by Jagadish Chandra Bose and the Indian Statistical Institute founded by Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis—grew out of the internationally renowned practices of scientific research in the Presidency College. In exploring the institutional form of Presidency College, this paper examines the making of categories like ‘college’, ‘university’, ‘teaching’ and ‘research’ in the higher educational space of colonial India.