Weatherhead Initiative on Global History Seminar


Monday, April 22, 2019, 3:45pm to 5:45pm


Robinson Hall, 35 Quincy Street, Lower Library

"Pathways to Modernity? The Rise of Technical Assistance Missions and the Early Days of the Digital Age in India, 1950s to 1970s"


Michael Homberg, Visiting Fellow Spring 2019, Weatherhead Research Cluster on Global Transformations; Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Cologne.


Sugata Bose, Faculty Associate; Chair, Weatherhead Research Cluster on Global Transformations (WIGH). Gardiner Professor of Oceanic History and Affairs, Department of History, Harvard University.


Jessica Barnard


With the decline of the European overseas empires and the increasing dynamics of a Global Cold War, international development aid was established as a professional field and a diplomatic tool. In the first postwar decades, modernization approaches here gained particular importance. These approaches were based on a triad of economic growth, technological progress and social adaption and soon became the dominant paradigm of development policy in an era of technocracy and planning euphoria. Foreign technical aid missions were designed to promote know­ledge and technology transfers, trigger the exchange of experts, ideas and goods between the Glo­bal North and South and shape “know­ledge societies”. Hence, from the late 1950s to the late 1970s, scientists and politicians, especially in India, closely linked the socio-economic development of the nation-state to the success of the High-Tech industries (computer and nuclear sciences, satellite and space technologies) while computer sciences rapidly became a “transmission belt” for power politics.

This seminar explores the high hopes and disillusionments that shaped the discourse on technological “development” and the “digital divide” between North and South as well as the conflicts and controversies that came along with the (post-)colonial experiments and encounters between international experts and their local counterparts in the field. Thus, it sheds light to the role of ICTs as means of nation building as well as the impact of science and technology policy in the heydays of the ideological battles and oppositions during the Cold War.