A synergy of linguistics & scientific research
Prof. Ganesh N Devy has been appointed the second Obaid Siddiqi Chair in the History and Culture of Science at the Archives at NCBS. Prof. Devy is a literary scholar, historian, and social and cultural activist, perhaps best known for establishing the People’s Linguistic Survey of India. In 2014, he received a Padma Shri for his work on nomadic tribes and dying languages.
The Obaid Siddiqi Chair was founded to bridge gaps in the practice, history, and philosophy of science and the humanities. The position is awarded to eminent scholars whose work has spanned these disciplines and enriched our knowledge of the history and culture of science.
In addition to the PLSI, Prof. Devy founded the Adivasi Academy and Bhasha Research and Publication Centre, an organization dedicated to studying and conserving Indian languages, championing tribal art and literature, and uplifting Adivasi communities through educational and financial assistance.
During his tenure as the Chair, which will be for a year starting October 2022, Prof. Devy plans to work on a book on the prehistory and history of Indian civilization from a linguistic perspective, dating back to 12000 years ago. From a strong believer in the power of language to shape lives, this work comes as an effort to faithfully document the rich and varied history of Indian languages. To compile this history, he will draw from the spheres of genetics, neuroscience, linguistics, oriental studies, etymology, and oral traditions, among others. He maintains that the field of historical research has not truly explored what the sciences, such as cognition, have to offer, and hopes that writing the book will allow unresolved histories to be seen from new perspectives. “I'm trying to bring all my life's learning together into shaping this book,” says Prof. Devy, whose previous books have ranged from a history of literary criticism in India to a reinterpretation of the Mahabharata.
Prof. Devy was unanimously selected by the review committee. Prof. Satyajit Mayor, the Centre Director of NCBS and Chair of the Review Committee, says, “The Chair had a number of diverse and excellent applications, and I am grateful to the Review Committee for their time, energy and judgement in once again making an excellent and unanimous choice. I am personally delighted to have Prof. GN Devy as the Obaid Siddiqi Chair for this year and indebted to Mariam Ram and TNQ technologies for making this possible. GN Devy will offer a lot to the building up of our archives. More importantly, he contributes to the broadening of the role of science in shaping our knowledge of contemporary society in the subcontinent. He does this through the lens of languages that exist today either as a mere whisper or a resounding roar.”
Prof. Devy will also deliver several public lectures that question the meaning of doing science in India. He plans to initiate dialogues to philosophically strengthen the archives and improve institutional memory. Along with scientists from NCBS, “I look forward to interacting with a very large number of historians, philosophers, social scientists,” he says.
The previous Chair (2021-2022), Dr. MD Madhusudan, worked on two projects: the Making of Indian Conservation, an archive of oral history interviews and other material that chronicles the engagements of diverse constituents with conservation across India’s living lands and waters over the last 50 years; and the India Open Land Cover Project, an open geospatial archive of natural and anthropogenic land cover types over time, based on public earth-observation data and open code. On completing his tenure, he says he “learned a lot more about what it means to be undertaking a project with an archival impulse.”
The Obaid Siddiqi Chair and associated activities are made possible through generous support from TNQ Technologies, a global leader in scientific, technical, and medical publishing services and technologies.