Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

Prakash Kumar

Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies
407 Weaver Building
Office Phone: (814) 863-4923
Prakash Kumar


Prakash Kumar is an Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies at Pennsylvania State University. He received his PhD from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2004. He spent two years as a postdoc at Yale University’s History Department, and was an Assistant and Associate Professor at Colorado State, before joining Penn State in 2014. 

He is the author of Indigo Plantations and Science in Colonial India (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), which is a social history around indigo that intersects with colonial and nationalist currents in South Asia, while also remaining attentive to the global surroundings of this history. The book tracks the odyssey of indigo from its African/Caribbean beginnings, through the Carolinas and the Spanish colonial world, before exploring in detail its journey among the colonial plantations on the Indian subcontinent. 

Kumar is currently working on two monographs on agrarian and rural histories in India. The first, titled Agrarian Development in India: A Different History of Modernization, is nearing completion, and captures the transformative experience of India’s agrarian modernization in the middle decades of the twentieth century. Covering the period from 1912 to 1971, the book acknowledges both the colonial and modernist lineages by examining the massive engagement of American actors with postcolonial elites and spaces of interaction between modernization as a social ideology of distinct import and the postcolonial project of development in the agrarian and rural sectors. An account of modernization and its contested legacy, the book examines moral compunctions, technocratic visions, and postcolonial anxieties to show how colonial and postcolonial India came to embrace a specific agrarian future. Kumar’s second book, which is under contract with Indiana University Press, discusses contemporary movements in India that oppose the entry of GMOs. 

Recent Publications:

"Introduction: Seeds and the History of Science," Editor, Focus Section on Seeds, Isis, Vol. 113, Issue 3 (September 2022).

"The Development of Uttar Pradesh Agricultural University," In Harald Fischer-Tine & Nico Slate (eds). Indo-Us Entanglements from the Age of Empire to Decolonisation, Leiden: Leiden University Press (forthcoming 2022).

“American Modernizers and the Cow Question in Colonial and Nationalist India,” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, Vol. 44, No. 1 (2021): 185-200.

“ “Modernization” and Agrarian Development in India, 1912-52,” Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 79, No. 3 (August) 2020: 633-658.

“Agricultural History and Agrarian Studies,” Agricultural History, Vol. 93, No. 4 (Fall 2019): 716-717.

“Introduction,” Technology and Culture, Special Issue on South Asia, Vol. 60, No. 4 (October 2019): 933-952.

“A Big Machine Not Working Properly”: Elite Narratives of India’s Community Projects, 1952-58” – Technology and Culture, Special Issue on South Asia, Vol. 60, No. 4 (October 2019): 1027-58.

“Modalities of Modernization: American Technic in Colonial and Postcolonial India,” In How Knowledge Moves: Writing the Transnational History of Science and Technology, edited by John Krige, 120-148. University of Chicago Press, 2019.

“Decolonizing Science in Asia,” Verge, 4, No. 1 (2018): 24-43. (co-author)

“Roundtable: New Narratives of the Green Revolution,” Agricultural History, 91 No. 3 (Summer 2017): 397-422. (co-author)

“Plantation Indigo and Synthetic Indigo: Redefinition of a Colonial Commodity,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 58: 2 (April 2016): 407-31.

“GENEALOGIES – Connecting Spaces in Historical Studies of the Global,” in Hilary Kahn (ed.), Framing the Global: Entry Points for Research, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014, pp, 97-111.

“Transnational Knowledge and Colonial Indigo Plantations in South Asia,” Modern Asian Studies, 48 No. 3 (2014): 720-53.

Indigo Plantations and Science in Colonial India, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

“Plantation Science: Improving Natural Indigo in Colonial India, 1860-1913,” Winning entry, Special Commendation, Singer Prize, British Journal for the History of Science, 40: 4 (December, 2007): 537-565.

“Scientific Experiments in British India: Indigo Planters, Scientists, and the State, 1890-1930,” in Indian Economic and Social History Review, 38:3 (June-September, 2001): 249-270.

Awards and Services:

Ivan Allen College Distinguished Alumni Award, 2021

Fulbright US Scholar to India, 2021-2022

American Historical Association, Jerry Bentley Prize Committee, 2017-2020

Society for the History of Technology, Editorial Committee , 2019-2023

Agricultural History Society, Program Committee, 100th Annual Meeting, 2019

German Historical Institute Fellow, 2018-2019

Scholars Award, National Science Foundation, 2017-18

Humanities without Walls Grant, University of Illinois, 2014

Framing the Global Fellowship, Indiana University, 2011-2015

Scholars Award, National Science Foundation, 2008-09

Research Interests: