[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)
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 â€¦