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Cultivating Connections: The Indian Plant Humanities Project

The project, led by Prof. Sumana Roy, aims to create a first-of-its-kind living archive of writing and art on plant life

The Indian Plant Humanities project aims to create a living archive of writing and art on plant life, the first of its kind anywhere in the world. This project is led by Sumana Roy, Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing, with the support of the Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability (3CS) at Ashoka University. Professor Roy has recently been awarded the Omega Resilience Awards (ORA Fellowship) for her project titled: “Shaping the discipline of Plant Humanities in India to rekindle the relationships between communities and their botanical worlds”.

The Indian Plant Humanities project was started with the support of respected scholars in Plant Humanities from Harvard, Syracuse, The Linnean Society of London, the University of Sussex, and the Yale Center for British Art. The archive in the making will consist of works by writers, artists, philosophers, and scientists from the Indian sub-continent over the last two millennia and will also make them accessible by translating them into English.   

This project is important, as no such archive currently exists, and by creating it, we celebrate the richness, uniqueness, and diversity of thought and works in the Indian subcontinent, and by translating it to English, allow for it to be celebrated globally. It is also the first of its kind – one where a living archive, created by Indians belonging to various linguistic cultures, will help change the way we think about ‘climate change’. This archive will gather creative and critical thinking on the botanical from different genres of literature, including music and spiritual philosophy, to remind us of our ancestry in thought on what has come to be called the non-human, a nomenclature based on a distinction that would not have existed in pre-colonial societies such as ours. 

To make this historic task a reality, the project has brought onboard researchers from India, the UK, and the US to collect and curate a bibliography across languages and themes. Currently, these researchers are working on themes such as plant life in the Indian Himalayan region and Indian plantationocene (human-caused environmental change) and working on languages such as Odia, Bangla, Sanskrit, Hindi, Axomiya, Marathi, Kannada, Tamil, Konkani, Nepali, Kashmiri, Punjabi, Mizo, etc. These bibliographies and research, along with English translations, will be compiled into an anthology.  

Apart from creating an anthology, the archive will allow the Indian Plant Humanities project to develop a section on Indian plant life in the University library and share research findings through talks by writers and scholars in the field, among others. Most importantly, the discipline of Plant Humanities does not exist currently in India – there is no organised or institutionalised system of thought on plant life outside of botanical sciences. The archive and the anthology will allow Ashoka University to be the first university to offer study programmes and courses on the Indian Plant Humanities.     

A brief report about the Indian Plant Humanities symposium, held in February 2022, can be found here.

Edited by Dr Yukti Arora and Sanchit Toor

Study at Ashoka

Study at Ashoka