Plantation science: Improving natural indigo in colonial India, 1860-1913

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This paper explores the transition to synthetic dyestuffs through a principal focus on developments within the last major holdout of the natural-dye industry, the blue colourant indigo. It starts by looking closely at existing practices of cultivation and manufacture of the natural dye in colonial India in the second half of the nineteenth century. It also develops a case study based on targeted efforts scientifically to improve plant-derived indigo in laboratories and experiment stations in colonial India and imperial England. Experts attempted to increase yields and enhance the purity of the natural dye to meet the competition of the cheaper and purer synthetic indigo launched on the international market in 1897 by two German firms, BASF and Hoechst. The paper explains the patronage of science by European planters, the colonial state and the metropolitan government and analyses the nature of science that emerged in the colonial-imperial nexus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)537-565
Number of pages29
JournalBritish Journal for the History of Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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