This is the first in-depth and analytical biography of an Asian woman scientist – Edavaleth Kakkat Janaki Ammal (1897–1984). Using a wide range of archival sources, it presents a dazzling portrait of the twentieth century through the eyes of a pioneering Indian woman scientist, who was highly mobile, and a life that intersected with several significant historical events – the rise of Nazi Germany and World War II, the struggle for Indian Independence, the social relations of science movement, the Lysenko affair, the green revolution, the dawn of environmentalism, and the protest movement against a proposed hydro-electric project in the Silent Valley in the 1970s and 80s.
The volume brings into focus her work on mapping the origin and evolution of cultivated plants across space and time, to contribute to a grand history of human evolution, her works published in peer-reviewed Indian and international journals of science, as well as her co-authored work, Chromosome Atlas of Cultivated Plants (1945), considered a bible by practitioners of the discipline. It also looks at her correspondence with major personalities of the time, including political leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, biologists like Cyril D. Darlington, J. B. S. Haldane and H. H. Bartlett, geographers like Carl Sauer, and social activists like Hilda Seligman, who all played significant roles in shaping her world view and her science.
A story spanning North America, Europe and Asia, this biography is a must-have for scholars and researchers of science and technology studies, gender studies, especially those studying women in the sciences, history, and South Asian studies. It will also be a delight for the general reader.
Foreword by Pnina Geraldine Abir-Am
1. Tellicherry: Modern Thiya Family
2. Madras I: Science and Politics in a Cosmopolitan City
3. Michigan I: First Lessons in Internationalism
4. Michigan II: Private Life of Plants
5. England: Love, Tulips and Chiasmata
6. Madras II: Flora of South India
7. Trivandrum: Teaching Interlude
8. Trivandrum-Coimbatore-Krusadai: Unforgettable Sojourn
9. Coimbatore I: Dreaming of Russia
10. Coimbatore II: Making Order out of Chaos
11. Great Britain I: Doing Science in Exile
12. Merton-Kew: Chromosome Atlas of Flowering Plants
13. Wisley I: Maker of Tetraploids
14. Nepal: Pilgrim of Science
15. Wisley II: Craze for Chromosome Counts
16. Delhi: Director of Agriculture
17. Wisley III: “Wanderings” of flowering plants
18. Paris-London: Camellia Trail
19. Calcutta: Modernising Botany in India
20. Oakridge-Ann Arbor-Princeton: Tracer Atoms and Agriculture
21. Kandy: Humid Tropics
22. Lucknow-Allahabad: Central Botanical Laboratory
23. Jammu-Jorhat: Border-Zones of Mixed Flora
24. Jammu & Kashmir: High Altitude Flora, Polyploidy and Variation
25. Trombay: Atomic Interlude
26. Madras III: Primitive Cultivars
27. Madras IV: Forest Tracts and a Protest Movement
28. Madras-Nilgiris: Hill Tribes and Secret Herbs
29. Madras V: Final Salaams
Epilogue: Portrait of a Nomad Woman Scientist
Bibliography of Publications by E.K. Janaki Ammal
Savithri Preetha Nair received her doctorate in 2003, from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London for her dissertation on the museum and the shaping of the sciences in colonial India. Nair’s research interests include the history of science, modernity and enlightenment at the turn of the nineteenth century, history and politics of collecting for science, sociology of knowledge, the public museum, and women in science in colonial and post-colonial India. Among her publications is the co-authored (with Richard Axelby) Science and the Changing Environment in India: A Guide to Sources in the India Office Records 1780-1920 (British Library, London, 2010), and the monograph, Raja Serfoji II: Science, Medicine and Enlightenment in Tanjore, 1786-1832 (Routledge, 2012), besides several papers in peer-reviewed international journals and edited volumes. Nair is an independent scholar and divides her time between London and Kerala.
"Janaki Ammal's was an exemplary life, and she has been lucky in her biographer. Historian of science, Savithri Preetha Nair, matches her subject's zest and energy, following her traces in far-flung archives in the United States, the United Kingdom and India. She closely tracks Janaki Ammal's relations with her scientific peers, and with her extended family (to whom she was very close). Her scientific research and achievements are narrated expertly, in language accessible to a lay audience but with no sacrifice as regards complexity and nuance. When published, this will be the best biography of an Indian scientist written thus far. In the authoritativeness of its research, and the sensitivity of its treatment, it far outdoes the existing biographies of male scientific icons such as C. V. Raman, Homi Bhabha, and Meghnad Saha."
– Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph
"Savithri Preetha Nair's labour of love is truly inspiring, from the perspective of both biography-writing and writing history of science."
– Deepak Kumar, historian of science
"It is the definitive biography of an Indian woman botanist who made many notable contributions but who never received her due in her long career. With extensive archival and other research, Savithri Preetha Nair recreates, for the first time, the life and times of the pioneering E. K. Janaki Ammal and of her contemporaries. This is also a very fine contribution to the history of science in India in the twentieth century."
– Jairam Ramesh, MP, former Union Minister, and author