Fayerweather Hall (Room 513), Columbia University, 1180 Amsterdam Avenue, New York
Some recent authors have argued that ‘Indian Systems of Knowledge’, such as Ayurvedic medicine, cannot be historicized. They argue that it must be understood as a ‘system’ and with reference to its ‘metaphysical foundations’. Food has often played an important part in these anti-historicist arguments about traditional South Asian medicines. Projit Mukharji first describes and historicizes these anti-historicisms, by delineating both their colonial origins and their recent nationalist appropriations. He argues that history of science needs to distinguish between different types of anti-historicisms emerging from different academic and political contexts. This talk shows how food history actually can be deployed to subvert these anti-historicist claims. Projit Mukharji pursues three inter-related inquiries to support his case. First, the category of ‘food’ is inappropriate for the textual heritage of Ayurveda and we need to be more sensitive to the specific technical categories, such as anupana, dravya and pathya, within which foodstuff were accommodated. Second, new foods, especially exotic New World foods, were absorbed into each of the technical categories recognized in Ayurveda. Finally, these new foods did not simply leave the categories themselves untouched. The embodied experiences of the scholar-physician’s palates substantially transformed allegedly disembodied, ahistorical categories they wrote about. Projit Mukharji argues then, that far from being an ahistorical fossil as the proponents of anti-historical arguments would have us believe, Ayurvedic medicine was a rich, heterogeneous and historically dynamic tradition, and food history is singularly well-placed to testify to that dynamism.
Projit Mukharji, Associate Professor of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania
Free and open to the public; no registration necessary.