In the nineteenth century, teams of men began digging the earth like never before. Sometimes this digging – often for sewage, transport, or minerals – revealed human remains. Other times, archaeological excavation of ancient cities unearthed prehistoric fossils, while excavations for irrigation canals revealed buried cities. Concurrently, geologists, ethnologists, archaeologists, and missionaries were also digging into ancient texts and genealogies and delving into the lives and bodies of indigenous populations, their myths, legends, and pasts. One pursuit was intertwined with another in this encounter with the earth and its inhabitants – past, present, and future.
In Inscriptions of Nature, Pratik Chakrabarti argues that, in both the real and the metaphorical digging of the earth, the deep history of nature, landscape, and people became indelibly inscribed in the study and imagination of antiquity. The first book to situate deep history as an expression of political, economic, and cultural power, this volume shows that it is complicit in the European and colonial appropriation of global nature, commodities, temporalities, and myths. The book also provides a new interpretation of the relationship between nature and history. Arguing that the deep history of the earth became pervasive within historical imaginations of monuments, communities, and territories in the nineteenth century, Chakrabarti studies these processes in the Indian subcontinent, from the banks of the Yamuna and Ganga rivers to the Himalayas to the deep ravines and forests of central India. He also examines associated themes of Hindu antiquarianism, sacred geographies, and tribal aboriginality.
Based on extensive archival research, Inscriptions of Nature provides insights into state formation, mining of natural resources, and the creation of national topographies. Driven by the geological imagination of India as well as its landscape, people, past, and destiny, Inscriptions of Nature reveals how human evolution, myths, aboriginality, and colonial state formation fundamentally defined Indian antiquity.
Introduction: Past Unlimited
1. The Canal of Zabita Khan: The Nature of History
2. Ancient Alluviums: Landscapes of Antiquity
3. Mythic Pasts and Naturalized Histories: The Deep History of Sacred Geography
4. Remnants of the Race: Geology and the Naturalization of Human Antiquity
5. The Other Side of Tethys: Gondwana and the Geology of Primitivism
Conclusion: The New Deep History
Pratik Chakrabarti is a chair in the history of science and medicine and director of the Centre for the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology at the University of Manchester. He is the author of Materials and Medicine: Trade, Conquest and Therapeutics in the Eighteenth Century and Bacteriology in British India: Laboratory Medicine and the Tropics.
"Offering an idiosyncratic new history of connected geology, archaeology, and the history of central and northern India, Inscriptions of Nature could only have been written by one scholar. Chakrabarti's valuable interpretation speaks directly to the current conversation on deep history engaging modern historians around the world. A pleasure to read."
– Alison Bashford, Director, New Earth Histories Research Program, University of New South Wales
"A terrific study of the interplay between the human imagination of deep time and the history of the geological sciences. Moving across northern and central India, the analysis shows how colonial empire in South Asia and sciences of antiquity and prehistory in Europe made each other in the last two hundred years."
– K. Sivaramakrishnan, Yale University, coeditor of Places of Nature in Ecologies of Urbanism
"This is a marvelous study. The author guides the reader on a journey through prehistory and Vedic antiquity to the bedrock of Gondwanaland itself. This portal into deep time reveals the profound importance of the geological imagination and suggests its continued relevance in the turbulent present."
– Saul Dubow, University of Cambridge, author of A Commonwealth of Knowledge: Science, Sensibility, and White South Africa 1820–2000
"Conceptually provocative, Inscriptions of Nature digs deep into the knowledge ecologies of colonial India, excavating the blended cultural landscapes of geology, anthropology, and history. In writing this fascinating history of the present, Chakrabarti thus opens to scrutiny the colonial bedrock of concepts of the Anthropocene."
– Warwick Anderson, University of Sydney, author of Colonial Pathologies: American Tropical Medicine, Race, and Hygiene in the Philippines