Weathering Prediction: Forecasts, Nature, and Political Power in Modern India


ACLS Fellowship Program




Weathering Prediction tracks the dynamic interplay between multiple traditions of weather prediction and explanation across South Asia from the 1860s to the 1960s. In 1875, India’s British governors established the India Meteorological Department (IMD) in a defensive response to a succession of catastrophic storms and famines. Its observational network quickly became the most important in the tropical latitudes, generating data on the Indian Ocean region’s distinctive weather phenomena: most famously, its seasonal monsoons and cyclones. The book argues that the “scientific forecast” quickly became a critical but fraught technology of modern governance, pioneered by IMD scientists but championed equally by rival weather experts, including jyotiṣa śāstrīs (Sanskrit scholar-astrologers), merchant communities, and Indian nationalists. Competing experts took advantage of government forecasting failures to assert the superior capabilities of “ancient” or “native” systems of weather science. As the first substantial study of competing methods of weather prediction in this region, this project argues that the weather became a vibrant site for debates about the distinctiveness of India’s environment and society, and crucially, the limits of modern science.