S. Prashant Kumar
S. Prashant Kumar Office: 5737 S. University Ave
Chicago, IL 60637
Phone: Email Interests:

History of mathematics and statistics; history of astronomy; history of technology; South Asian history; British empire; colonialism; race

Postdoctoral Researcher at the Rank of Instructor, Institute on the Formation of Knowledge


I am a social and intellectual historian of science and empire, whose work examines the intersections between mathematics, astronomy, technology, and race. My current book project, The Time There: Empire and the Exact Sciences, seeks to understand how astronomical and mathematical knowledge became key to the political economy of colonial rule in South Asia, and how labour and caste relationships shaped the everyday practices of astronomy and mathematics. It was not just “Western science” that determined this story: in order to measure and distribute time, the British empire relied upon existing, caste-bound forms of knowledge and skill, from jyotiśāstra [Sanskrit astral science] to artisanal metallurgy. Following the exact sciences from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century, the book goes on to examine how these sciences came to be used to make historical claims about mythic events and races, by colonized and colonizer alike, tracing continuities between colonial knowledge projects and the cosmology of modern Hindutva, or right-wing Hindu nationalism.

I am also an Honorary Fellow at the Archives at NCBS, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bengaluru, a collecting center for the history of science in modern India. Prior to joining the IFK, I was a Research Scholar at the Archives at NCBS, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bangalore; a Postdoctoral Fellow in Global Intellectual History at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin; and a Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Haverford College. I received my PhD in History and Sociology of Science from the University of Pennsylvania in August 2021.


S. Prashant Kumar "The instrumental Brahmin and the “half-caste” computer: Astronomy and colonial rule in Madras, 1791–1835." History of Science 61.3 (2023): 308-337. https://doi.org/10.1177/00732753221090435