The Great Arc of India
July 27, 2003 6:57 AM   Subscribe

The Great Arc of India is a travelling exhibition that celebrates the two hundredth anniversary of the trigonometric survey of the Indian subcontinent by William Lambton, George Everest, and many others. The exhibition will visit Edinburgh, Birmingham, London, and Manchester. In case you can't catch the actual exhibition, the site includes a PDF of the exhibition guide, in two parts. Along with the exhibition there is a programme of performances and visual events by Indian artists.
posted by carter (5 comments total)
And: the story of the Great Arc is also available as a book by John Keays. I'm psyched, as I've just finished reading Ken Adler's history of the eighteenth century trigonometric survey of France. Both are great histories of scientists and technologists working at the cutting edge of accuracy for their times.
posted by carter at 6:58 AM on July 27, 2003

Excellent links carter, thank you!
posted by riffola at 7:19 AM on July 27, 2003

I'll second that. Thanks carter!
posted by plep at 7:53 AM on July 27, 2003

Here's an article on the book from India's Frontline magazine :-
'Consider this passage: "It would be unfair to claim that the Rebellion, like the measurement of Mount Everest, stemmed from the Great Trigonometrical Survey. But surveyors had undoubtedly fuelled both the British sense of superiority and Indian sense of grievance. 'Bars' and 'chains' of invisible triangulation looked and sounded a lot like political strangulation. Not unwittingly, the Survey had furnished the paradigm and encouraged the mind-set of an autocratic and unresponsive imperialism. Additionally, the razing of whole villages, appropriating sacred hills, exhausting local supplies, antagonising protective husbands and facilitating the assessment of the dreaded land revenue, the surveyors had probably done as much to advertise the realities of British rule and so alienate grassroots opinion as had any branch of the administration." '


I've recently finished - and enjoyed - 'The Great Hedge of India', about a search for the history behind the great impenetrable 'customs hedge' which ran between the British East India Company-run areas of India in the east, and the Princely States to the west. What initially seems like a benign example of British eccentricity turns out in fact to have been a far from benign instrument of salt starvation. This might also be of interest to those who are fascinated by this topic...
posted by plep at 8:06 AM on July 27, 2003

Interesting points, plep; and there are certainly other histories of the Great Arc waiting to be written, including the one from the point of view of the links between surveying, administration, and imperialism. The resentment of the people being measured to new technologies of measurement is also described in Adler's book, which is set in post-revolutionary France; here the surveys were intended to produce a definitive measurement for the metre, which would in turn replace the complex hodge-podge of existing local measurements. The metre was however slow to catch on.

It is also interesting to note the extent to which the imperial exercise of the Survey has been proudly incorporated into the historical narrative of the present (post-colonial) Indian state.
posted by carter at 8:11 AM on July 28, 2003

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