Inventing a Cartographical Image for Postcolonial India: European Models and the Politics of National Identity

  • Arundhati VirmaniEmail author
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Geoinformation and Cartography book series (LNGC)


In 1953, the government of independent India sponsored the production of a national atlas written in the new national language, Hindi, under the direction of the geographer S. P. Chatterjee at Calcutta University. To what extent did the Atlas reconcile nationalist sentiments of the 1950s with a determination to break away from the colonial frame with its dominant scientific practices? From this perspective, a study of the first National Atlas elucidates the connections and circulations of intellectual ideas, technologies and practices in a heightened nationalist context. For the Indian state, it represented a tool for national pedagogy through the production of specific images of the country’s physical, economic and social features. A detailed analysis of the stages of production, the final choices of data, format, language and scale show how broader scientific exchanges could take place within the new constraints of state goals of development and a bureaucratic framework of action. The first atlas represented a crucial moment for establishing precedents of circulation and exchange of ideas. It appears as a somewhat paradoxical production. On the one hand, it was the result of a state directed and controlled enterprise. At the same time, it benefitted from accelerated academic and scientific exchanges and collaborations, which, in the field of geography, resulted in a common elaboration of forms of normalization and standards, particularly evident in cartographical productions.


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.EHESS, Centre Norbert EliasMarseilleFrance

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