Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences - Institute of Asian and African Studies

Current Visiting Scholars

Visiting Scholar Prof. Dr. Debjani Bhattacharyya

Prof. Dr. Debjani Bhattacharyya conducts a research visit from 1st of June to 30th of August 2020 at the Seminar for South Asian Studies.

 Debjani Bhattacharyya headshotBio

Debjani Bhattacharyya is an assistant professor of history at Drexel University and the author of Empire and Ecology in the Bengal Delta: The Making of Calcutta (Cambridge University Press 2018) which received the Honorable Mention for the Best Book in Non-North American Urban History 2019. Most recently she was the Shelby Cullom Davis Center Fellow at Princeton University where she began work on her second book Monsoon Landscapes: Law and Climate Science in the Bay of Bengal. She will be at IAAW from June 1-August 30, 2020.




Monsoon Landscapes: Law and Climate Science in the Bay of Bengal

My current book project Monsoon Landscapes: Law and Climate Science in the Bay of Bengal is a history of colonial climate science and the development of an actuarial imaginary about Indian Ocean environments. Building upon a legal archive of insurance cases fought by the East India Company, ship-owners, the British Admiralty, and insurance companies spread across the British India through the eighteenth and nineteenth century, my book argues legal debates and marine insurance markets shaped and influenced the development of colonial weather science. For the parties involved in these cases developing the correct geographical nomenclature and science of tides, winds and rivers was central to settling insurance cases from the eighteenth century on. This book resituates the standard accounts of the origins of western meteorology to the littorals of the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal. Drawing on an archive of private papers of merchants in eastern India, Bangladesh and Burma, as well as documentation of shipwrecks and insurance claims settled across Calcutta, Rangoon, Glasgow and London, I show how complex categories were developed to administer “human error” and “natural calamity” in the Marine courts from the mid-eighteenth-century. These court records became a significant archive for colonial scientists to develop atmospheric and geological knowledge in the service of actuarial science and insurance laws. These courtroom debates became jurisgenerative sites of knowledge production about climate and geology. This book contributes to the growing field of colonial science studies to show how knowledge about the climate, natural worlds, and economic risk were shaped by both legal cases as well as laboratory science.