Dissertation Week

Posted by sepoy on September 23, 2004 · 4 mins read

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 ìreadî ñ 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 ìpresentî 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.


Sharon | September 23, 2004

Do piccies of documents count? If so, I already started at Early Modern Notes yesterday and there's more to come... (Trouble is, I'm not writing much about the research lately because of a lack of enthusiasm. Or ideas. Looking at my original project proposal tends to induce hysterical laughter followed by mild depression.) Like the diss! Looking forward to hearing more about it. And when do we get more from the subaltern?

sepoy | September 23, 2004

Sharon: They count indeed. subaltern writes tomorrow. And don't say anything about hysterical laughter...I been doing that all day...I had my first academic year meeting with the diss. chair.

Sharon | September 24, 2004

I can never get over all these people in the US PhD system. Advisors, committees, chairs. What do they all do? The only person who matters over here during the course of doing the PhD - who you have to talk to - is your supervisor (well, some people might have two; that's considered complicated). And there's an external examiner for the viva at the very end.

sepoy | September 24, 2004

They do squat. The chair of your committee (equivalent to the supervisor) is the only one involved with "advising". The rest get to read the chapters (if nothing is on the telly, they are trapped under a heavy couch and the dissertation chapter is the only thing within eyesight) and vote at the defense. The viva is not at the end but at the beginning. Before you can "propose" a thesis, you have to take the orals which are with your committee members (not exclusively). After the orals, come the diss. proposal, after which comes the diss. defense. and then, ah, cushy post-doc in wales :)

Sharon | September 25, 2004

Yes, it does often sound as though the hardest part of an American PhD is getting to the point where you write your diss (those orals sound a particular nightmare)... But I suspect that means that American students tend to be a lot better prepared for it than their British counterparts. It's possible here (though extremely rare) to get right to the end and have it rejected by the external examiner as misconceived/insufficient/executed badly, because if your supervisor really lets you down there just aren't those other checks (however unwilling and cursory) - unless you take the initiative and show work to other people informally (hoping they have time to read it). And although that's the doomsday scenario which happens to very few, I think it haunts everyone going into the viva, which is simply an oral defence of the diss and usually takes about an hour or so. (I learnt a couple of weeks ago that another recent PhD from our department has got one of the same post-docs in this year's competition (although she's going to do it at Oxford). I'm wondering who I might push into applying this year to see if we can get three in a row... That'd look pretty cool in the department's publicity, now wouldn't it?)

Sharon | September 25, 2004

Check this post! (I tried to trackback, but I'm not sure it's worked...)

Caleb | October 01, 2004

I just got them up before the Week was over, but I've tried to participate here and here. They fall more in the realm of "analysis of the secondary literature" than in the "nitty-gritty," but thanks for encouraging us to write about our work at all!

Early Modern Notes | September 25, 2004

I research, therefore I am Sepoy at Chapati Mystery is holding Dissertation Week 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 mater...

Siris | September 27, 2004

Dissertation Week I learn from Sharon at Early Modern Notes that it's Dissertation Week at Chapati Mystery, and I thought I'd join in the fun.