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This is an open call to colleagues in graduate school/early career stages to get involved with our two main series of works: XQs and Book Roundtables. XQs is focused on first books by authors and we are looking for both suggestions for books but more importantly for volunteers to conduct the interviews. Book Roundtables are for major books onto which can be applied numerous perspectives from scholars, activists, artists, and intellectuals. We welcome pitches for books you consider reach a level of serious engagement, as well as list of potential interlocutors. In both cases, we will work with the publishers to get review copies and publish and promote your work. We are committed to publishing junior scholars of color, scholars belonging to traditionally marginalized groups, and those who are, in the spirit of CM, speaking truth to power.

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CM Roundtable III: The Skull of Alum Bheg – Introduction

[We are excited to host this conversation on a very important book, Kim Wagner’s The Skull of Alum Bheg: The Life and Death of a Rebel of 1857.  The CM Roundtable is a series that presents multiple, in-depth reviews of an exciting new book. We thank each of our distinguished panelists for engaging in this public dialogue. We aim to have each roundtable available as a single beautifully produced e-book available at the conclusion– for classroom or referential usage.]

Kim A. Wagner, The Skull of Alum Bheg: The Life and Death of a Rebel of 1857 (2017)

 

Introduction by Sepoy

Essays:

Zoya Sameen

 Ilyse R. Morgenstein Fuerst

Sonia Qadir

Gaura Narayan

 

Author’s response:

Kim Wagner

***

Roundtable Introduction by Sepoy

Gentle Readers— the Uprising is in the DNA of this blog, as the name will have prompted you, and as we have carried many conversations about the events of 1857 over the last decade and a half. Most memorably, a heated debate on William Dalrymple’s book [Sepoy, Dalrymple].

Kim Wagner’s Alum Bheg gives us reason to re-visit some of those debates. Alum Bheg’s skull is only one such crudity that lives un-digested in the belly of the Empire. The libraries, museums, cultural centers, archives, houses of great and powerful, are all filled with many many “skulls” of 1857— manuscripts, jewels, objects, people— all taken in a fit of righteous minded fury by the white imperialists. They now sit inert adding to the glory of a has-been culture that flails in anger at brown and black immigrants and refugees of its own global politely unacknowledged “peccadilloes.”

1857, the Uprising, was part of a long string of revolts, revolutions, disruptions, stoppages and slow-downs. That it’s reckoning never looked beyond the “causes” is the biggest failure of journalism at the time, and scholarship since then. For myself, as a scholar of Hindustan, 1857 is an event of rupture that took thousands of libraries, containing hundreds of thousands of manuscripts and objects, from archives to storage shelves in England (and Berlin). They have lived their long life without scholars ever batting an eye about the “discovery” of manuscripts “at the BL”. Wagner, to his credit, noticed the appearance of the soldier’s remain and gave his intellectual labor to tracing its journey and significance. I cannot think of any one else who has done as much.

I am grateful to the contributions of Gaura Narayan, Zoya Sameen, Ilyse R. Morgenstein Fuerst, and Sonia Qadir. I hope you enjoy this roundtable. I hope readers in the academy are compelled from this discussion to begin tracing histories of objects that moved from the colony to the metropole and give us a reckoning for repatriation on a scale that would make Brexit look like a drunk man’s shuffle at 10pm that it is …

CM Roundtable III: The Skull of Alum Bheg – Sameen

[We are excited to host this conversation on a very important book, Kim Wagner’s The Skull of Alum Bheg: The Life and Death of a Rebel of 1857.  The CM Roundtable is a series that presents multiple, in-depth reviews of an exciting new book. We thank each of our distinguished panelists for engaging in this public dialogue. We aim to have each roundtable available as a single beautifully produced e-book available at the conclusion– for classroom or referential usage.]

Kim A. Wagner, The Skull of Alum Bheg: The Life and Death of a Rebel of 1857 (2017)

 

Introduction by Sepoy

Essays:

Zoya Sameen

 Ilyse R. Morgenstein Fuerst

Sonia Qadir

Gaura Narayan

 

Author’s response:

Kim Wagner

Discussion by Zoya Sameen (University of Chicago)

Zoya Sameen is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at the University of Chicago. Her research interests include South Asian colonial history, prostitution in empire, sex buyers and sex markets in modern history, and the ontology of gender and sex. She is currently working on her dissertation project, tentatively titled ‘Buying Sex, Creating Markets: An Alternative History of Prostitution in Colonial India, 1870-1940,’ which aims to present a history of sex buyers and evolving practices of sex-buying in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century South Asia.

***

The discovery in a British pub of the skull of a havildar (sergeant) named Alum Bheg, who was sentenced to death by being blown away from a cannon for his part in the 1857 Indian Uprising, should give us pause to consider the brutal expression of colonial violence in the Indian subcontinent. Alum Bheg’s skull was brought to Britain by an officer who witnessed his execution and collected the skull as a trophy of colonial warfare and an assertion of personal dominance. A note found with the skull alleges acts of murder committed by Alum Bheg and subsequently affirms the justness of the colonial retribution meted out to him. The untold story of this havildar and his regiment of the 46th Bengal Native Infantry that rebelled against the British in Sialkot is the subject of historian Kim Wagner’s latest book, The Skull of Alum Bheg.

Taking the brief note attached to the skull as his starting-point, Wagner’s aim in this book is to retell the life and death of Alum Bheg, and how he went “from trusted ally of the East India Company in the nineteenth century to forgotten war trophy in a pub…a century later” (3). Building on his previous major work on the Uprising, The Great Fear of 1857 (2010), the author also wishes to more generally consider the collective grievances and motivations of non-commissioned officers in native regiments of the Bengal Army and colonial responses to them. Official documents, published records, and periodicals, alongside missionary accounts and papers—some by the alleged victims of Alum Bheg—are all crucial sources that help the author piece together this story. Wagner’s account is not just about the sepoys, but also about ‘ordinary people’ from abroad who experienced “the maelstrom of fear, panic, and violence of the Indian Uprising” (7). Continue reading “CM Roundtable III: The Skull of Alum Bheg – Sameen”

CM Roundtable III: The Skull of Alum Bheg – Morgenstein Fuerst

[We are excited to host this conversation on a very important book, Kim Wagner’s The Skull of Alum Bheg: The Life and Death of a Rebel of 1857.  The CM Roundtable is a series that presents multiple, in-depth reviews of an exciting new book. We thank each of our distinguished panelists for engaging in this public dialogue. We aim to have each roundtable available as a single beautifully produced e-book available at the conclusion– for classroom or referential usage.]

Kim A. Wagner, The Skull of Alum Bheg: The Life and Death of a Rebel of 1857 (2017)

 

Introduction by Sepoy

Essays:

Zoya Sameen

 Ilyse R. Morgenstein Fuerst

Sonia Qadir

Gaura Narayan

 

Author’s response:

Kim Wagner

***

Discussion by Ilyse R. Morgenstein Fuerst (University of Vermont)

Ilyse R. Morgenstein Fuerst is assistant professor of religion and director of the Middle East Studies program at the University of Vermont. Her research centers on Islam and Muslims in South Asia as well as theories of religion, race, and imperialism. Her first book, Indian Muslim Minorities and the 1857 Rebellion: Religion, Rebels, and Jihad was published by I.B. Tauris in October 2017. At UVM, Morgenstein Fuerst teaches courses about theory and method in the study of religion, Islamic practice and history, and, occasionally, Hindu traditions.

***

Kim A. Wagner’s The Skull of Alum Bheg: the Life and Death of a Rebel of 1857 is a gripping narrative of one of the most written about historical events in British and Indian history. In it, Wagner offers a glimpse of the 1857 Rebellion as told through the journey of the skull of an executed sepoy, Alum Bheg. This material micro-history offers quite a lot to readers and, moreover, adds to a growing body of literature that helps us think about memorialization and memory.

A question we ought to ask from the outset is: why another book about 1857? As the author of one of these very many books, I ask this question not as a snarky, veiled criticism but instead, as one that gets at something bigger than the Rebellion itself. Why are scholars—American, British, Indian—so invested in thinking, rethinking, and writing about the Rebellion? What might this plethora of literature tell us taken as a collective? For me, the Rebellion exemplifies complicated 19th century events that have produced ongoing effects. Whether stated or not, scholars—and their audiences—find new ways to wrestle with these major, violent events precisely because they continue to serve a purpose. The Rebellion maintains a dominant space in British and Indian history, in global affairs, in published material because we have yet to stop remembering it and memorializing it in ways that serves contemporary purposes and ideologies. Continue reading “CM Roundtable III: The Skull of Alum Bheg – Morgenstein Fuerst”