Over 150,000 precisely organized scientific artifacts from 24 collections, including paper-based manuscripts, negatives, pictures, books, works of fine art, audio recordings, scientific apparatus, correspondence, and field and lab notes, are housed at the center.
A temperature-controlled area of the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bengaluru displays documents going back to 1913 and a 1986 letter of encouragement from Manmohan Singh to MS Swaminathan, tracing the development of scientific research in India over a century.
The Treasured Collection
Obaid Siddiqi, a co-founder of NCBS, originally used this 2,000 square foot archives center as his office and laboratory. It is located in the NCBS Eastern Lab Basement. It is now a gathering spot for historians, storytellers, and scholars.
More than 150,000 meticulously organized artifacts, including paper-based manuscripts, negatives, pictures, books, works of fine art, audio recordings, scientific apparatus, correspondence, and field and lab notes, are housed in 24 collections at the center.
It was given a Rs. 36 crore approximately grant by Arcadia, a philanthropic organization that promotes the preservation of the environment and cultural heritage, last month. This was for a three-year effort to gather, preserve, and make online accessible cultural and scientific artifacts related to the nation’s history of science.
Indian Scientific Project
Such a project, according to NCBS Center Director Prof. Satyajit Mayor, can aid in their understanding of how scientific concepts are developed. The archives center was founded with a view of becoming a site where we could keep an archive of scientific lives and trajectories, successes, discussions, and conversations surrounding the life sciences in the country .
The center also houses the papers of TSG Sastry, a physicist who worked on the Thumba rocket programme, Leslie Coleman, an early 20th-century agricultural scientist in Mysore state, and Swaminathan, the renowned agricultural scientist, in addition to collections like the Ravi Sankaran Papers (Sankaran was an ornithologist) and the Obaid Siddiqi Papers.
An effort to archive more than 80 years of Swaminathan’s research was started by NCBS in 2022. His letters, field notes, pictures, writing, and press coverage are among the more than 48,000 archive items that are valued here.
One of these records is a letter from Manmohan Singh, the then deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, dated April 15, 1986, in which he supports Swaminathan following the publication of an essay. Claude Alvares’ The Great Gene Robbery.
Series of Congratulatory Letters
The letter claims to thank him for the mail dated April 10th, 1986. The spiteful and slanderous piece that was published in the Illustrated Weekly of India caused much grief . Everyone who knows anything about India is well aware of your contribution to the growth of Indian agriculture. The fact that India is currently self-sufficient in food grains is a testament to the commitment of our agricultural experts, of whom he happens to be the most prominent member .
Then there is a letter from Dr. Verghese Kurien to Swaminathan, written by hand and dated April 30, 1989: that he was happy to learn from the letter of April 25 that he had been chosen for the 1989 World Food Prize. An extremely high honor, as evidenced by the fact that only a select handful were given it in the beginning. You were among the many people that supported him with his efforts.
Exhibition of Treasured Knowledege
Anjali J. K, an archivist at the center, exhibits Ajith Kumar’s field notes from 1982–1983, which were written on Braille paper obtained from a US church. “It was a reliable blotting-free paper. In the Anamalai Hills in Tamil Nadu, four species of tree-dwelling mammals—the Bonnet monkey, the lion-tailed monkey, the Nilgiri langur, and the giant squirrel coexist and fight for the same resources “she claims.
Using Braille paper: Kumar discusses the reasons for taking him in one of the recordings preserved at the archive center. 30–40 years ago, there were no A4-sized documents. We used to receive lengthy paperwork that was expensive. Nothing was inexpensive for us. I mean, back then, I had a monthly budget of Rs 2,500 and I used to go with a field assistant. When I was doing my MSc, there were blind students who received Braille papers in the dormitory where I was residing. Good non-blotting sheets, these. The papers that were offered for sale were blotting papers.
When describing how the archives would be preserved, she says: “In essence, it is classifying and categorizing the documents. One of the professors at GKVK received the Leslie Coleman papers. It was a gift from the professor to the NCBS. Since he established the Entomology Department there, Coleman is well regarded.”
The supplies are kept in the temperature-controlled chamber in specific boxes. “The levels of humidity are carefully monitored. Dehumidifiers are also present here. Materials are stored in specifically designed archival boxes. They don’t contain acid, “Anjali declares.
The primary goal of the archives center, according to Dhatri S of the public engagement team at the center, is to promote further investigation into the history of science in India.
“For instance, here is the place to go if you want to learn anything about the Green Revolution. The MS Swaminathan Foundation sent us the MS Swaminathan documents around a year and a half ago “she claims.
According to Prof. Mayor, the center now intends to gather, preserve, and digitize artifacts, such as written documents, pictures, audio recordings, and histories of people and organizations that have made significant contributions to the advancement and dissemination of knowledge in science and techniques in ecology and conservation.
The (Arcadia) project’s first year is devoted to exploring various ecological and conservation histories, including those of indigenous people and grassroots conservation groups. The second year of the initiative will then broaden this focus to encompass more scientific disciplines.