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Editing and “Translating” the Amarakośa: Henry Thomas Colebrooke and the Making of Colonial Botany, C. 1800


· Minakshi Menon Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Berlin, Germany)


07/27 | 13:50-14:10 UTC+2/CEST


This paper examines the editorial strategy followed by the Indologist, H.T. Colebrooke (1765-1837), in translating and publishing the famous Sanskrit verse lexicon, the Amarakośa. August Wilhelm von Schlegel praised Colebrooke’s edition of the Amara as a “vortreffliche Bearbeitung”, but his editorial practices remain a puzzle for later readers. For example, he recorded variant readings of words, especially plant names, in his footnotes without mentioning the manuscripts in which those variants occurred. Here I argue that in order to understand Colebrooke’s translation we must connect it to his natural-knowledge-making practices. Colebrooke used his translation to stabilize the Sanskrit names of plants by connecting them to their Linnaean binomials. His translation thus became a way in which an old cultural form – the Sanskrit lexicon – was transformed to produce a new form of knowledge – colonial botany.