Final Public Oral Exam: Tara Suri

Final Public Oral Examination
Event date: 
September 27, 2022 - 10:00am
Seminar Series: 
Final Public Oral Exam

Selling Simians: Decolonization, Science, and 'The Human' in South Asia (1925-1984)


Gyan Prakash, co-adviser
Hendrik Hartog, co-adviser
Erika Milam
Debjani Bhattacharyya, Universität Zürich


211 Dickinson and Zoom


“Selling Simians” charts the history of rhesus monkey export from colonial and postcolonial South Asia. Over the twentieth century, the rhesus monkey – a species of macaque common across the northern reaches of the subcontinent – became a requisite model of ‘the human’ in biomedical research spanning contraceptive development, polio vaccine manufacture, and spaceflight. It was the rhesus monkey’s perceived similarity to, and difference from, the human species that rendered the non-human primate an ideal model organism. Yet this interplay of similitude and difference equally generated transnational conflicts over export.

Examining these conflicts, “Selling Simians” traces the sociolegal relations that unevenly made rhesus monkeys into commodifiable models of human bodies between the trade’s rise in the 1920s and fall in the 1980s. Bringing together archival materials ranging from corporate pharmaceutical records to diplomatic cables to monkey dealer correspondence, the dissertation follows rhesus monkeys out of trapping sites near Lucknow and into disputes between dealers, scientists, antivivisectionists, and late-colonial authorities. It analyzes the hierarchies of race, caste, and religion shaping the transport of simians from Calcutta docks to New York laboratories amidst war and anticolonial mobilization. And it tracks how debates over the postcolonial management of South Asia’s rhesus ecologies were refracted into Cold War clashes over sovereignty, population control, and foreign aid.

Building on feminist and postcolonial science studies, the dissertation foregrounds the role of colonial and postcolonial governance in the history of the twentieth-century life sciences. In the process, “Selling Simians” demonstrates how the racialized geopolitics of empire, the Cold War, and postcolonial development have shaped the making of the biomedical body.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam. Questions? Please contact Lee Horinko.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.