Dissertation Week

in univerCity

While I have talked about matters tangential and peripheral to my dissertation on this blog, I have never actually talked about “it”. The dissertation itself. Antara’s comment reminded me that I have never actually incorporated my research into this blog. It is hard to say why.
In one aspect, a dissertation becomes an extremely personal entity that I cringe discussing with people. I assume they would find it boring or filled with minutiae and arcane expositions of the “cool!” thing discovered in the bookstacks yesterday. Of course, god is in the details.
I envisioned this space not just as working out my ideas but putting them into practice and see if they hold scrutiny. In that regard, I am missing a great opportunity to have comments about my various theories and themes from my audience. So I have made a decision.

Next week, will be Dissertation Week here at CM. I will post various bits and pieces of my dissertation. I urge my readers who are in the academy, writing, researching their dissertations or major papers to have at least one post on their material next week. If possible, show us the nitty-gritty; some source selection or some analysis of the secondary literature. If you do participate, please share your link with me.

To set it off, here is a blurb from my dissertation proposal last year:

My dissertation examines various narratives of Muhammad b. Qasimís conquest and their echoes and ripples in medieval histories as well as modern incarnations. I am interested in exploring the ways in which these narratives of conquest and submission were constructed and transmitted.

There are three distinct periods of historical output that I look at: the medieval perso-Islamic milieu, the British colonial period and the nationalist discourse of the State of Pakistan. Within these many retellings, I trace the emergence of a myth and hagiography of Muhammad b. Qasim. The goal of this study is to analyze these histories within their specific cultural and intellectual contexts; to highlight the political framework and to view their transformation in the popular imagination or collective memory of Islam in South Asia.

In essence, the narrative of Muhammad b. Qasim has been used in three distinct modes of interpretation:
ï As a template for teaching good governance (Mirror for Princes) in medieval India.
ï As an exemplar of Muslim colonial intervention in British India.
ï As a foundational myth and a tool in the program of citizenship in Pakistan.

Analyzing these historical narratives within their specific textual and cultural histories allows us to understand the nature of the Indian communities in which they were produced and the conditions in which they were √¨read√Æ √± the particular demands that influenced a particular depiction of this Muslim conquest of India. My aim is not to rescue or construct a “historical” Muhammad b. Qasim but to question the social functions served by his memory and history. The questions I ask revolve around the production of these histories and their effects. What indeed should be the agenda of a history that deals with the origins of Islam in India? What role does such a history play in the √¨present√Æ within which it is created? Is this re-imagining of the past, even, a particularly modern deceit? It is my hope that by unraveling, exploring and investigating both the medieval historiography and the modern, popular depictions of this conquest, this project will illuminate the ways in which the cultural and political contexts necessitated changes in the myth of Muhammad b. Qasim over the course of centuries.

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