Identifying new themes in South Asian History
We organise this workshop with two objectives, one, strategic and another thematic. One of our aims is to bring the scholars working at the doctoral and post-doctoral stages on South Asia together. Often we, the co-organisers, have felt that the dialogue between people working on South Asia in different universities and research centres in Germany has greater potential to be integrated into a stronger research network or networks than has been realised. The idea is to facilitate this dialogue across places, disciplines, and themes.
Keeping this objective in mind, we have tried to keep the thematic base of our workshop quite broad, although with a strong objective of addressing new fields and research areas in the social history of South Asia. To this end, we have chosen three themes that, we believe, open up a wide range of historical and contemporary questions and debates. The disciplinary focus of the workshop is on History but we strongly encourage participants from other disciplines to apply.
Space, technology and transnationality have emerged as key fields in understanding the social histories of both modern and early modern periods. While on the one hand concepts like circulation have been applied to explore the diverse regimes of mobility of goods, people, ideas, and artefacts both at the micro and macro levels, the global turn and the paradigm of ‘connected histories’ on the other has reinvigorated the historical research on the nature and forms of international ties in different aspects, say political, state formation, religion and, not least, the economy. Our aim is to further this development by looking at overlapping historiographical trends and historical practices by addressing one or more than one of these key issues.
The intersection between technology and space, for instance, has a great potential to chart out not only independent histories of those technologies (for example, print; infrastructural technologies like metalled roads, telegraph, post, railways and motor cars; technologies of ‘entertainment’ like cinema, gramophone and so on), but also to unravel the processes that constituted, influenced and altered the nature of social and physical space and sociabilities. Some of the questions that can be addressed through this are:
What was the role of new infrastructural technologies in producing/changing the nature of existing urban spaces?
How did these technologies, or did they at all, affect the spatial linkages, say between urban and rural parts?
These changes can be mapped through a number of vectors – commodity exchange, mercantile networks, mobility and migration of people, money remittances and reimbursements (through post and telegraph), and so on.
We are very specific on getting contributions that deal with gender. Although in recent years the study of technology has come a long way from its earlier avatar (which mostly revolved around policy studies) the role of gender is still inadequately addressed. For instance, railway historiography has given us the fact that subsequent to the introduction of railways the number of third class passengers and the practice of pilgrimage increased. And from the historiography on nationalist discourse we know that women had become the site that reflected the ‘pure’ and ‘uncontaminated’ of the traditional culture that helped reconfigure the nationalist/elitist response to colonialism. Did this reconfiguration deny women the right to step outside? Did the new technology fail to break the binary of inside (home) and outside (world)? These two seemingly disparate historiographies can be brought together by looking at the gendered form of mobility. In each of these aspects, we intend to weld the discursive and the material, and avoid a narrowly limited focus on either.
Print and other forms of media provide another crucial mediation to approach the varied aspects of social history. How did printed texts and visuals, musical and cinematic productions, shape cultural, moral, emotional, didactic and political views, say along the lines of community, caste, class, region, gender and race? How, more broadly, did new forms of representation and new aesthetic forms insert themselves into the lives of people? With the use of rich (and new) empirical sources how could we address the issues of print and performance, textuality and orality, and ‘high’ and ‘low’ productions. How these productions were consumed at different spaces (bookshops, reading rooms, railway platforms, and book fairs) and how they simultaneously created new spaces and habits (for example, by the 1930s, at least amongst the European population in India, it had become a standard practice to read a novel while travelling) are questions that need to be unravelled by further historical research.
For a long time research on South Asia focussed on local, regional or national levels, while neglecting more trans-territorial and 'global' questions. New insights could be gained by exploring, for instance, questions about how transnational mobility and migration influenced worldviews and ideologies. What kinds of international networks were built up with South Asian participation and to what degree did these networks affect the political, social, economic and ideological constellations within India?
Please send the abstracts (400-500 words) to the organisers no later than 15 April. Other than those who will be directly participating in the workshop (through paper presentation), we invite all interested scholars working on South Asia to take part in the workshop. We hope, in this way, to begin the work of building up a new network of younger scholars working on South Asia. Currently, we are in the middle of making application for funding and therefore we strongly request our participants to arrange for their travel and accommodation.
Nitin Sinha (Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin), Anna Sailer (Centre of Modern Indian Studies, Georg August University Göttingen), Aditya Sarkar, (Centre of Modern Indian Studies, Georg August University Göttingen), Maria Framke (Jacobs University Bremen)
Nitin Sinha, nsinhan@@googlemail.com