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Values from Victorians


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Slides from talk on November 7 2016 at Regional Museum of Natural History Mysore as part of a two day meeting and exhibition on ‘Empire and Environmental Heritage of India’.

Published in: Environment
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Values from Victorians

  1. 1. Values from “Victorian naturalists” Shyamal Lakshminarayanan Researcher-at-large
  2. 2. Notes and disclaimers • “Victorian” as a genre rather than period • Values ~ convictions ~ ideals ~ principles • Proximate and ultimate motivations can differ • Very subjective - but being explicit helps • The cases here are cherry-picked • The values mentioned here do not necessarily originate in the cases mentioned
  3. 3. Motivations • A growing view that many old institutions like the ZSI, BSI, GSI, Forest Departments are losing relevance for citizens • As a compiler of content including biographies on Wikipedia related to India’s environment, I am asked - Why bother about the lives of people long gone? Why bother about people who were part of a rapacious system?
  4. 4. Learning disability • Knowing history ≠ applying learnings – The BNHS prides W. S. Millard for showing Salim Ali as a young boy around the collections and instilling interest in birds! – The BNHS however is known to shoo away visitors interested in the collections (even established Indian ornithologists!)
  5. 5. A government incommunicado
  6. 6. Public mindedness The value of knowledge for public benefit
  7. 7. ... There is no department of natural science the faithful study of which … does not leave us less selfish and less worldly, less spiritually choked up with those devil's thorns, the love of dissipation, wealth, power, and place, that does not, in a word, leave us wiser, better and more useful to our fellow-men. A.O. Hume, 1867
  8. 8. Thinking beyond individual lifetimes • Learned Societies, Journals • From wealthy private collectors to public museums – Also related to the type concept • Victorian naturalists – Reflected on the lives of others, past work An unexamined life is not worth living - Socrates
  9. 9. Empowering individuals I may as well attempt to supply the deficiency for the benefit of local inquirers, who, I suspect, are hardly sufficiently alive to that legerdemain of the closet-naturalist, whereby they are cheated of the whole merit of their labours … How long assiduous local research is to be deliberately deprived of those aids of library and museum which it ought to be the chief duty of learned Societies at home to furnish, I know not. ... Whilst the face of our land is darkened with skin- hunters, deputed by learned Societies to incumber science with ill-ascertained species, no English zoological association has a single travelling naturalist in India; nor has one such body yet sought to invigorate local research... Hodgson in 1873
  10. 10. Valuing local knowledge
  11. 11. Valuing evidence
  12. 12. Interdisciplinarity
  13. 13. Valuing skills and interest I notice that in India a new caste system is developing before the old one has disappeared. The new system is based on academic degrees. One cannot teach Bengali, chemistry, history, or what you will, without a degree in that subject. Haldane, 1965
  14. 14. Openness
  15. 15. Reflection
  16. 16. The value of critique I have already come to one conclusion as to why science in India is developing with disappointing slowness. It is not because Indians are stupid or lazy. It is because they are too polite. J B S Haldane, 1965 M. Krishnan, one of the few Indians in the naturalist tradition who freely criticized stupidity where he saw it. Possible because he was independent.
  17. 17. Biodiversity Heritage Library
  18. 18. Self-organized groups
  19. 19. Large-scale collaboration
  20. 20. Can we learn from the past? What values do you think are worth keeping?