Grad Student Research Profile: Khyati Nagar

Grad student research profile

Welcome to our grad student profile!  We are excited to highlight the research of grad students working in science and technology studies, history of science, and philosophy of science.  Know someone whose work you’d like to support?  Email us!

Khyati Nagar is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Humanities at York University in Toronto.  Having finished her comprehensive exams, she has started writing her thesis, which is entitled “The Visual Cultures of Science in Early 19th Century Calcutta (1800-1850).” She works under the supervision of Prof. Bernard Lightman, and her committee includes Professors Rusty Shteir, Shobna Nijhawan and Douglas Peers.

Khyati describes her path toward the History of science as being “unique and certainly not a direct one!”  She first graduated “with a Bachelors degree in Fine Arts from the Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda, India and pursued a Masters Degree in Visual Communication Design in the Industrial Design center at IIT Bombay.”

After these degrees, Khyati moved into the “then burgeoning IT industry for a year (1998-99), as a research associate at the Bambu Studio in IIT Bombay for a year and then moved to IIT Guwahati, Assam to teach undergraduate Design students at the Department of Design.”  It was while she was teaching that she “realized that my theoretical knowledge was quite limited and I was also frustrated with the graphic design books that were used for instruction. Most of these texts presented Eurocentric and American histories and there was barely anything on the history of the printing press or the History of the Book in an Indian context.”

Khyati decided to change directions. “By this time I was also a single parent to a two year old. After teaching for two years as an assistant Professor of Design, I made a leap of faith and applied for admission to a Masters programme in Humanities Computing at the University of Alberta.”

This programme and its focus on Digital Humanities “offered a safe transition from thinking visually to thinking theoretically. The most interesting part of this programme was an introduction to the History of Science, Post humanism and the History of Digital Humanities in North America, which was also closely tied to the field of Book History.”

Khyati submitted her MA thesis, “entitled European Representations and Information Technologies in 19th Century India.” Reflecting on that thesis, she says, “I am amused when I look back at that title and thesis, mainly because I was quite anachronistic in my approach and was trying to mash many ideas and philosophies together – Heidegger, the History of the Baptist Missionaries and Printing Presses in India, Botanical Gardens and illustrators such as Thomas and William Daniellls and Balthazar Solvyns.”  Evaluating her early research has allowed Khyati to pursue more focused studies since though her doctoral work at York:  “After that, I wanted to pursue doctoral research that would give me an opportunity to hone interdisciplinary ideas relating to Postcolonial Theory, Postmodernism, Feminism, History of Print Culture, History of Science, South Asia, and South Asian literatures. The programme at York was the only one that offered all these opportunities and the complete freedom to choose the direction for my research. So, here I am!”

Khyati remarks that her interest in the history of science “was accidental at first” but “then I was addicted to it!”   The appeal in part emerged from “a Victorian Science class that I took with Professor Bernie Lightman and the papers I wrote for that class. That class gave me an opportunity to bring my love for Book History together with the History of Science. I was also quite fortunate to audit a course with Professor Rusty Shteir; she too is a member of my PhD committee and has helped shaped my ideas relating to the History of Science quite significantly.”

Khyati credits her committee members with supporting her “enthusiasm to explore the non-Western History of Science.”  In addition to Dr. Lightman and Dr. Shteir’s helpful presence, Professors Shobna Nijhawan and Professor Douglas Peers “are experts in the field of Hindi Literature and the British in India respectively.”

Other opportunities, such as attending conferences and workshops, have helped strengthen Khyati’s interest in non-Western science and contribute to her learning: “I have also had the good fortune to present and attend conferences, lectures and The Manipal Summer School hosted by the Circulating Knowledge: East and West cluster and the Cosmopolitan and the Local cluster.  A part of my research trip to India in 2015 was also sponsored by Cosmolocal for which I remain deeply grateful.”  These opportunities have been intellectually motivating and exciting for Khyati – “All this support and learning has made me the hybrid history of non-Western science, visual culture and print culture enthusiast that I am today!”

The topic of “cosmopolitanism and the local” has proven to be a central one for Khyati’s work.  She observes, “Every aspect of my research relates to this theme of the local/global, the global circulation of knowledge and its local contexts in early 19th century India. There is an intense entanglement of ideas relating to scientific ideologies, medicine, botany, zoology, geography, colonial power, intermediaries, race, visual culture, artists, dramatic performances and exhibitions that explore the interaction of interlocutors with global and local forces. The dynamics of these diverse set of people and ideas in constantly changing geographies is at the heart of the theme of the Cosmopolitan and the Local in Science and Nature and also my research.”

These complex dynamics keep things interesting for Khyati, and she particularly enjoys, “The opportunity to learn and explore new ideas constantly where curiosity and intellectual stimulation change the way I think each day!”  Thank you, Khyati, for speaking with us!  We wish you all the best as you finish your doctoral research.

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