State of the Field

Posted by sepoy on December 30, 2008 · 3 mins read
update: On FRIDAY, JANUARY 2, there will be a roundtable discussion of the state of the field, moderated by David Ludden and possibly others. The event will be held in THE HILTON NEW YORK, NEW YORK SUITE (4TH FLOOR), FROM 5-7PM.

I will be there. See you all there, too.

Thinking out aloud about the historiographical landscape of current South Asian studies is a pretty silly thing to do at Medici's coffee shop ("Obama Eats Here!"). You get all kinds of unsolicited advice - what do you mean Burton Stein's History of India is under-appreciated?

If most of the 80s and all of the 90s can be given over to Subaltern Studies in particular and Postcolonial Studies in general, than how will we look back on these 00s?

Since 2000, I think these four titles are significant and merit (ed) widespread attention (in chronological order):

1. Dipesh Chakrabarty. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial thought and historical difference. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

2. Velcheru Narayana Rao, David Shulman, and Sanjay Subrahmanyam. Textures of time: writing history in South India 1600-1800. New York: Other Press, 2003.

3. Richard Eaton. A Social History of the Deccan, 1300-1761: Eight Indian Lives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

4. Sheldon Pollock. The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture, and Power in Premodern India. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

It is instructive that the latter three are concerned largely with the pre-modern. But maybe, this shows my bias more than a trend. Casting widely, I think the following would have to be on, again, my list of "significant" works on South Asian history since 2000.

  • Ronald Inden, Daud Ali and Jonathan Walters, Querying the Medieval: Texts and the History of Practices in South Asia (2000)
  • Ayesha Jalal, Self and Sovereignty: Individual and Community in South Asian Islam Since 1850 (2001)
  • Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, Refashioning Iran: Orientalism, Occidentalism, and Historiography (2001)
  • Cynthia Talbot, Precolonial India in Practice: Society, Region, and Identity in Medieval Andhra (2001)
  • Nicholas Dirks, Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India (2001)
  • Romila Thapar, Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300 (2004)
  • Muzaffar Alam, The Languages of Political Islam: India 1200-1800 (2004)
  • Manu Goswami, Producing India: From Colonial Economy to National Space, 2004

Romila Thapar, Somanatha, the many voices of a history (2004), Partha Chatterjee, A Princely Impostor?: The Strange and Universal History of the Kumar of Bhawal (2002) and James Laine, Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India (2003) are of special interest to those of us who dabble in questions of memory and history.

Most recently (and this may very well be controversial), I think William Dalrymple and his The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857 is going to leave a mark on the field. Hopefully, a positive mark. Looking ahead, Wendy Doniger's The Hindus: An Alternative History is going to be monumental.

What would you add?


jawad | December 29, 2008

My contribution is humble. The two titles that I have read on South Asian history in the 00's were both bought at the great airport mall. I would add The Great Arab Conquests How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In. By Hugh Kennedy. It is a spectacular story, even (particularly?) when told without the standard Islamic mythology. There is a lot of "but how do we really know this is what happened" and "even if it is very unlikely that this happened, what clues can we find in the myth itself." I also enjoyed Dalrymple. Why is he last, and not on your lists? Why controversial? Why the possibility that he would have a negative mark?

A | December 30, 2008

Not a specialist on S. Asia but two assigned books I recall liking are Guha-Thakurta's Monuments, Objects, Histories and Pinney's Photos of the Gods. I left the seminar with the vague impression that Modern South Asian history momentum was shifting to art history. objects, objects, and more objects

Red | December 30, 2008

Thanks, just when I was making my list for generals :-) I'd definitely recommend Mrinalini Sinha, Spectres of Mother India: The Global Restructuring of an Empire (Duke, 2006) which is one of the best works I've seen that manages to mainstream gender history and place the "national movement" in a transnational field. I'd also imagine that Vazira Zamindar, The Long Partition And The Making Of Modern South Asia (New York, Columbia, 2007) and Joya Chatterjee's The Spoils of Partition (Cambridge, 2008) would be must reads for all those who want to push against the 47 barrier. Lastly, Manu Goswami, Producing India: From Colonial Economy to National Space, University of Chicago Press, June 2004 forces us to rethink Chatterjee and brings political economy into the cultural turn.

misanthrope | December 31, 2008

William Dalrymple's 'The Last Mughal'? Why in the world? One could possibly argue 'White Mughals' was influential in that it popularized early modern Indian history aongst a wide readership. But why 'The Last Mughal'?

Mario D'Penha | January 02, 2009

Acha, I could not make it to the roundtable. Kya kya hua?

sepoy | January 04, 2009

jawad: WD is last because the list is largely chronological. He _is_ on the list. The negative mark is not him/his work but whether the field will recognize that TLM demonstrates a hunger for well-written social history in the general public and, well, produce such work. If they ignore him/the book because of the occasional bombasticy of his comments/claims, it will be a negative mark. The academic crowd is under no obligation to think about the general public, though, it seems. The nice thing is that Doniger's newest is dedicated to WD and for the general public and hence an excellent start.

Qalandar | January 05, 2009

In these days of Niall Ferguson, and imperial "rehabilitation", I would also suggest Dirks' "The Scandal of Empire"...and Guha's "India After Gandhi" is a really good addition to the "survey" histories written for a general readership.

Lazynative | January 08, 2009

The Other Side of Silence by Urvashi Butalia (2000) a shocking omission imo. One of the best accounts of narratives from the Partition that seeks to take into account marginalised voices and covers highly sensitive topics such as the "missing women" phenonmenon with great sympathy and insight.

Meandering thoughts roughly guided by UCSD, Ibn Battuta, and others | (Pre-Launch) | January 27, 2010

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