The Archives at NCBS releases collections on fifth anniversary

Updated - February 22, 2024 11:06 pm IST

Published - February 18, 2024 01:15 am IST - Bengaluru

“A launch of any collection is the beginning… an archives is in a perpetual state of incompleteness.” With these words, the Archives at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) celebrated its fifth anniversary with the launch of several collections from scientists and science enthusiasts, and the inauguration of an exhibition titled “The Breakfast Table” drawing from the papers of scientists Leslie Coleman and M.S. Swaminathan. 

Some of the archival material released on Saturday include papers from the Wayanad Prakruthi Samrakshana Samithi, case material from the Narmada Bachao Andolan, material from N.V. Joshi, Prakash Gole and B.S Madhava Rao, and sketches from Ranjit Daniels and Carl D’Silva.

The first half of the event, which was open for all, saw a walk-through of the collections by the archivists and Venkat Srinivasan, head of the archives at NCBS. 

Later, a brief introductory session at NCBS’ Haapus hall gave a glimpse of how the archives came to be in February, 2019, and how it has grown into a sizeable collection of around 2,50,000 archival objects spanning more than 30 collections in different languages, representing 120 years of the history of science (its oldest material dates back to 1876).

Oral history of science

Some oral history of science recordings were also released to the public. Archivist Anjali J.R. said during the launch talk that the material collected included environmental histories of people and places, government data, reports, legal documents, art, writing, photographs and bird sketches, among other items.

Historian Janaki Nair then spoke on the theme ‘archives for all.’ She said that modern archives offer an opportunity to “move against the grain” and that as a historian, one learnt that nothing ever begins in an archive, although it may end up here, saying that it was an “interrupted story” that we interpret. 

“We have to carefully read the colonial record against the grain in which it was written,” she said, specifically referring to her own work with a set of police records.

She said that archival work allowed one to interrogate and construct some kind of vision of the past, which may correspond to what the people who kept the records might have intended. 

Breakfast Table exhibition was launched in the evening, followed which participants were invited to tour the archives and exhibition.  

The Archives, a public centre for the history of science in India, hosts collections from across the country in fields ranging from ecology and conservation to physics and seismology – all STEM fields, in a nutshell.

This year, they processed the files of Krishnaja A.P., the first woman scientist who has granted her papers to the archives, as well as the papers of their first mathematician. 

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