Indian archaeologist elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Indian archaeologist and Padma Shree awardee Sharada Srinivasan is among the 250-odd global artistes, researchers and scientists to be elected as an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AMACAD), one of the oldest societies for scholars in the United States of America.
On April 22, AMACAD announced the list, which includes at least half a dozen resident Indian Americans. However, 55-year-old Srinivasan, a professor at the School of Humanities of National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru, is the only resident Indian to have been elected to the society this year.
Probability theorist Kavita Ramanan, who is the Roland George Dwight Richardson University Professor in the division of Applied Mathematics at the Brown University in Rhode Island, has also been elected as a member. Others on the list include Indian-American neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta, literary theorist and feminist critic Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and theoretical physicist Ashvin Vishwanath.
Founded in 1780, AMACAD honours excellence and convenes leaders from around the world every year to examine new ideas, address issues of importance to the nation and the world, and work together “to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honour, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people.”
With their election to the society, members such as Srinivasan and Ramanan now join an elite group of scholars that have included the likes of Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, Akira Kurosawa and Nelson Mandela.
“The Academy’s mission is to advance the public good. The diversity of newly elected members helps us achieve that goal by creating greater awareness of the range of extraordinary individuals around the world who are excelling in their fields. It’s wonderful when election to the Academy raises the visibility of members and helps younger people see their own potential and new possibilities,” said David Oxtoby, president of AMACAD, in an email response.
“As an Indian woman, and as a woman representative of the Global South, it is thrilling to be counted amongst its international luminaries ranging from Einsten to Mandela and Nobel Laureates and past presidents. In these globally and nationally challenging times, when the Academy has sought to illuminate how knowledge, art, ideas and leadership could contribute to a better world through its election of new members, this confers not only recognition, but also a sense of responsibility,” said Srinivasan, who is also a Bharatanatyam dancer.
Ramanan, in an email interaction, said she views her election to the academy as an acknowledgement of her family, friends, mentors, collaborators and students, all of whom have not only supported her research journey, but also made it enjoyable.
“I feel fortunate to be in a profession that I really enjoy, and so this recognition comes as a wonderful bonus. I am particularly attracted by the multidisciplinary nature of the academy, and look forward to meeting and working with people from diverse disciplines, including the Arts, as a member of the academy. Having recently initiated a seminar series on “Social Equity and Applied Math” at Brown University, I am interested in the Academy’s programmes on Democracy and Justice, in addition to STEM and Education issues,” said Ramanan.
Both Srinivasan and Ramanan have been advocates of multidisciplinary research and hope that their election to the academy increases the visibility of women in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Srinivasan’s research areas include archaeometallurgy, archaeological sciences and archaeometric studies, where she has tried to explore how scientific techniques of materials and metals characterisation can better help understand the history of metallurgy in the Indian subcontinent.
“The election to the AMACAD gives a unique opportunity to further project such activities to an international platform and to take it to an international standard and to engage and learn from the top international scholarship to both expand the frontiers of knowledge and to learn about the best practices for heritage conservation and management, since in many ways in India we still lag behind to a fair extent in terms of scientific studies in the areas of cultural heritage,” said Srinivasan, who resides in Bengaluru with her husband and 20-year-old daughter.
Incidentally, both women are alumni of the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-Bombay)—Srinivasan graduating a year before Ramanan joined in 1988—and have lived in the same hostel building at different times. Last year’s selectees, Shobhana Narasimhan, a professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bengaluru, and Sarita Adve from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, too, have shared the same hostel during their time at IIT-Bombay.
IIT-Bombay director Subhasis Chaudhuri said, “IIT-Bombay has always believed in providing equal opportunities to women students and we are delighted to see that it is paying rich dividends. We are happy that many of our women students use IIT-B opportunities to springboard into successful careers. Membership to the academy is very prestigious and the fact that all recent Indian women inductees are IITB alumni attests to the importance of the role of the institute in shaping the career of bright minds. We hope that such a stellar performance of the women batches of the 80s will further motivate the younger batches.”
Srinivasan said that young women shouldn’t be afraid to think out of the box. “I would say to the young women of today… to take the road less travelled if that is where the instincts are, since passion and commitment will find its rewards,” she said.
“Surround yourself with people who support and believe in you, aim high but keep expectations low, and do not limit your role models to people who look or talk like you, but take inspiration from different qualities in a variety of people,” Ramanan advised.