Scholars Award: A History of Hunger: Agricultural Science, State, and Modernization

Project: Research project

Project Details


Relations between external expertise and internal agricultural practices have been evolving throughout the twentieth century because of the drive to use science for enhancing food production and mitigating 'hunger.? This project will study the particular framing of the problem of hunger by policy makers and state officials. It will explain how views and strategies of hunger impacted the effort toward modernization of agriculture in colonial and postcolonial India by Americans. Focusing on statist measures, expertise, and the experience of elites and subalterns this project will highlight efforts that tailored scientific knowledge specifically to the ends of production and neglected questions of distribution. The project will illustrate how the debate between production versus distribution strategies shaped the appropriation of American technologies. It will address scientific modernization from the domain of the political, the social, and the ecological. It will also provide an occasion to explore the convergences and disjunctures of differing stakeholders visions? of progress and the impact on technology use and practice.

Historians of modern India have continued to explore the hows and whys of the arrested course of agricultural development in the twentieth-century. The existing scholarship characteristically relies on two core assumptions. On the one hand is the central belief of modernization theory that removal of concrete obstacles and impediments would lead to a self-perpetuating course of modernization becoming evident in the well-being of the masses. On the other hand, postcolonial scholarship in South Asian historiography continues to draw attention to the intransigence of subaltern life and consciousness that is arguably incommensurable with the logic of capitalist development. Scholars have highlighted the role of expert regime in agriculture to question the boundless power of experts and the state. In that regard this project explores the impact of the colonial moment and the American moment in the building of an expert grid in agriculture. The book argues that the agenda of technocratic modernization was engaged by groups with diverse political aims and social agenda, and connects that process of engagement with questions of rural inequality. It illustrates this interaction while exploring two sets of records in the United States and India. On the one hand, it focusses on the work by American Presbyterian missionaries, Point Four technical and social scientific experts, and the agriculture faculty from American public land grant universities in India. On the other hand, it explores the efforts launched by nationalists and the national state in India for reviving agriculture and rural community.

Effective start/end date8/15/176/30/22


  • National Science Foundation: $243,610.00


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