Histories of Technology and the Global Economy
I am a historian of technology's role in international development, emphasizing United States foreign policy and economic and environmental change in South Asia in the twentieth century. My interests and expertise lie in food security, agribusiness, and rural initiatives led by NGOs and philanthropic organizations. As a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, I am working on my first book manuscript, The Hungry Harvest: Science, Development, and the Economic Origins of the Global Green Revolution.
My current project examines the reallocation of South Asia's agricultural resources following Partition in 1947 and the nutritional health initiatives launched by the governments of India and Pakistan after independence. To that end, I track the rising influence and strategic planning of American philanthropies, such as the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, and international organizations, like the World Bank, the FAO, and the WHO, in reshaping South Asia's economy and fashioning new, lasting notions of global development and economic growth.
Contrasting with existing scholarship on the changes that swept the world food economy in the mid-twentieth century, my work uncovers the linkages between late colonial and post-independence understandings of famine, population growth, and development in South Asia. I propose a wider framing of the Green Revolution of the 1960s, examining the resonance of eugenic theories within population control efforts and tensions between the nutritional and agricultural sciences through decolonization.
My work also explores how South Asian and American economists, physicians, and agricultural scientists worked in a global context to combat malnutrition during the nationalist era and in the decade following independence, well before the height of the unprecedented grain production increases of the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. Using archival sources in South Asia, Europe, and the United States, I investigate economic, medical, and scientific inquiries that addressed hunger in the context of economic inequality and the struggle against British colonialism during the 1930s and 1940s.
Built from the ground up by three thousand Sikh and Hindu refugees in the aftermath of the Partition of India in 1947, the town of Nilokheri in East Punjab emerged as an unlikely centre of agricultural education and scientific exchange. With support from the Ford Foundation, Indian and American scientists and development planners worked through the 1950s to transform the refugee township into a model of agricultural innovation and community development. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru even cast Nilokheri as the first step on the ‘road to new India’ that would bring the nation to self-sufficiency in food production. Over the course of a decade, experimental farms, workshops, and agricultural training centres rose around the village. The bustling town rapidly became an internationally recognised centre for deploying new farming technologies, training farmers, and sharing scientific knowledge. Yet for all its initial promise, allegations of bureaucratic mismanagement dogged the project, floodwaters disrupted the site in 1957, and Ford’s interest shifted by the early 1960s. The Nilokheri experiment, however, set the stage for the scientific and social interventions of India’s Green Revolution, contributing to an international development paradigm that persists today.
Through the 1950s in South Asia, development experts associated with American philanthropic organizations and new international agencies took an active role in transforming the divided Punjab. Following partition in 1947, World Bank worked to adjudicate the Indus River Basin dispute between India and Pakistan over the division of the region’s water resources. In these discussions, the issues of soil of fertility and the food production capacity of lands on both sides of the new border took center stage. At the same time, the U.S.-based Rockefeller and Ford Foundations coordinated with the new Indian state to launch projects in the agricultural sciences, population control, and community development for Partition’s refugees. This article shows that a dual agenda of restricting the fertility of rural populations and improving the fertility of agricultural lands united these first international development initiatives in Partition’s wake. This central concern for fertility reflected in these post-Partition projects backed by philanthropic organizations and international agencies would help to define an emerging postwar development discourse and lay the groundwork for the Green Revolution of the late 1960s and 1970s.