This talk introduces 'The Technological Indian,' a book based on a database of every Indian to graduate from MIT from its founding in 1861 to 2000. The book argues that Indians looked to MIT to an extraordinary extent in their quest for technological development. While MIT’s role in providing the model for the IITs is well known (and should be especially so in an institution that has its own “Infinite Corridor”) this talk will focus on three surprises that came to light in researching this book. --The long history of Indians at MIT. The first Indian attended MIT in 1882 as part of a nascent technological nationalist movement in Poona and Indians regularly attended MIT in the colonial period, showing Indian efforts to obtain a world-class technological education well before the IITs. --The connection between Mahatma Gandhi and MIT In the late 1920s through the early 1940s, a cluster of MIT students were associated with Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi had an engineering ethos, largely ignored by scholars, which shows that Gandhi’s Satyagraha Ashram and MIT were not as antithetical as they might first appear. --MIT and the Indian IT Industry Indian graduates of MIT played a central role in the development of the Indian IT industry. Three Indian MIT graduates started Tata’s first IT effort, which grew into Tata Consultancy Services, led for decades by F. C. Kohli. In 1991 five of India’s top ten IT exporting firms had an MIT graduate in their genealogy.
Ross Bassett is an Associate Professor of History at North Carolina State University, where he teaches the history of technology. He has a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and a PhD in History from Princeton. His first book, To the Digital Age, was a history of MOS semiconductor technology.