Archive Fever

I spent the last few days in The Reg. For my next parlor trick, I need to find magazines which circulated among the middle class Pakistani households during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. It sometimes confuses people that such materials exist in a place like University of Chicago. This is where post-War politics and the burgeoning Cold War comes into play. Congress had designated that the first 5 million dollars from the 1951 India Wheat Loan Interest Fund be spent on cultural exchange. So, in 1957, money generated from that interest was used to begin a program of acquisition of Indian titles to three research centers: University of Pennsylvania, Midwest Inter-Library Center in Chicago and UC-Berkeley. This initial fund was the basis for the PL-480 amendment in 1958 which streamlined the process.

If you check out a book, published in India or Pakistan, you will likely see a stamp and a scrawl, PL-480 or Public Law 480. Michigan Congressman Joseph D. Dingell passed an amendment to PL-480 which stipulated that monies derived from sale of agricultural surplus abroad be used to procure publications for scholarly interest. This money was always in foreign currencies and, hence, its usage back into the economy would be of greater good. In 1961, $400,000 in soft-money and 12 universities as recipients were established. By 1967, there were 20 university libraries which were receiving the shipments.

On the ground, in India or Pakistan, were field offices staffed by the American Embassy or Library of Congress, who worked closely with local publishers and librarians to identity, catalog and bulk purchase vast quantities of mass market publications. All of this material (some 765,816 “items” in 1965-66 alone) were sent to the University of Chicago Library for dissemination to all other member institutions. The Reg kept a copy.

So, here is a bit of post-war cultural capital that made an archive possible where none could exist. PL-480 cannot be separated from the birth of the Area Studies and the beginnings of the “South Asian Studies” but it is rarely studied, and scholars are rarely cognizant of the centrality of this program to the development of scholarship.1 It is no surprise that University of Chicago, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Berkeley were the power-houses of scholars in the 60s, 70s, 80s – there was an archive attracting folks from around the world.

In a few days, I head to another archive. To Lahore, to Multan, to Uch and maybe to Islamabad. I will keep you posted.

  1. See Maureen L. P. Patterson, “The South Asian P.L. 480 Library Program, 1962-1968” The Journal of Asian Studies Vol. 28, No. 4 (Aug., 1969), pp. 743-754 []

It’s a Contest!

Dear Readers,

Chapati Mystery is launching a new flash fiction contest, which might just happen one time or might become an OVERNIGHT SENSATION or even a TRADITION. For the first contest, we solicit entries inspired by the following tweet sent out by @polgrim on the occasion of Hosni Mubarak’s removal from the office of President of Egypt:

I was deep in conversation with an ambassador’s wife of an ‘x’ country over dinner when I get a text from Paris to tell me Egypt is free.

Later, @polgrim added that ‘x’ country was Scandinavian. INTRIGUING. Entries should be between 100 and 200 words long and should be pasted into an email to lapatastic at gmail dot com. Our special CELEBRITY judge will be the acclaimed flash fiction writer KUZHALI MANICKAVEL. Deadline? February 28th, 2011, MIDNIGHT GMT. The top three winners will have their stories published on Chapati Mystery (!!) and receive a FREE copy of Zero Degree by Charu Nivedita to be mailed ANYWHERE in the world.




Deadline has been extended to March 15th, 2011!!

Via Chicago

Heading home is always a highlight and soon enough, I will be in sweet Hyde Park drowning in snow, slush, Powell’s and Istria. Life will be as it ought to be. As it once was.

However, before that, I am participating in – it readily appears – a wonderful conference at the University of Pennsylvania. I am going to try and lay out (what will be a chapter eventually) my understanding of the position prophecy holds in the imaginations of middle-class Pakistanis. I will also talk about Zaid Hamid.

Details on the conference:

Popular Culture and Alternate Histories: Voices from Beyond the Security State in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia


FRIDAY, 18 February, 2011

* Kathleen Hall, South Asia Center Director
* Daud Ali, Chair, Department of South Asia Studies

* Elizabeth Kolsky, “The Archival Remains of a Frontier Rebel”
* James Caron, “Transnational Memory in the Plains of Layla”

2:45-3:00: Break

* Kamran Asdar Ali, “Communists in a Muslim Land: Cultural Debates in Pakistan’s Early Years”
* Lutz Rzehak, “Historiography and Localism in Modern Tajikistan”
* Morgan Liu, “Post-Cold War Reflections on Central Asian Imaginaries of the State”

6:30-9:00: SHADOW ANTHROPOLOGY: a play reading with Rick Mitchell, and dinner
(ARCH Auditorium, 3601 Locust Walk)

SATURDAY, 19 February, 2011

* Saadia Toor, “Feminist Poetry and Protest in Pakistan”
* Iftikhar Dadi, Title TBA
* Margaret Mills, “Afghan Women between Victimhood and Agency”

10:45-11: Break

* Manan Ahmed, “Prophetic Time #FAIL”
* Jo-Ann Gross, “Between Memory and History: The Interplay between Orality and Textuality in the Funerary Narratives of Nasir-i Khusraw from Badakhshan”
* Jamal Elias, “Imaging and Imagining Religious Virtue”


The conference will be held at
Room 245 (2nd floor)
Jon M. Huntsman Hall
3730 Locust Walk/Walnut Street

Do come by and say hi!