Schools to Satellites: Enlightening and Entertaining Village India (1908-1974) (2018)
Schools to Satellites examines the work of an Indo-American network of scientists and artists working with engineers and villagers. This interdisciplinary group used televisual technologies and object lessons to enlist India's 558,000 village communities to assist in post-colonial nation building. With national illiteracy rates as high as eighty-eight percent, objects and televisual technologies were celebrated as a means of communicating in universal metaphors with India's vast population. Drawing on archives from Asia and Europe as well as North America, Schools to Satellites shows how scientists collaborated with members of government, international development, and philanthropic institutions to develop a visual idiom for "Village India" and beyond. This account reconstructs how the creation of a visual idiom was part of the era's most important national debates, such as clashes over industrial decentralization in the 1950s, building an electronics industry in the 1960s, and the benefits of satellite technology for human and natural resource management in the 1970s. The dissertation reveals what gave object lessons and televisual media technologies power in postcolonial development—a "soft power," where individual and group participation was co-opted rather than coerced by choreographed improvements to villages—was not simply its ability to instruct and educate non-literate rural masses. At the heart of development persisted an intuition, an idea, a new science of human settlements: that it was possible to conduct nation building and international development in India's 558,000 villages through images and objects as opposed to text and linguistic modes of public discourse.