This paper will place the terms ‘nation’, ‘history’ and ‘writing’ under interrogation by examining texts relating to ‘India’ (also a name/concept to be explored). It will identify projects concerned with reconstructing the Indian past in both literature and history (focussing primarily on the colonial and post-Independence periods, roughly 1800-2000), with a view to showing how the vision of the Indian nation—what has been called the ‘idea of India’-- is vitally dependant on how this past is viewed. Indian historiography is therefore a contested terrain. The survey will necessarily be selective, but will try to identify the key intellectual figures, movements and trends, and events that constitute this terrain.
Class 1: The first seminar will attempt a broad overview of the problematic, and will raise the theoretical questions around the key terms, history, nation and writing. Some recent texts like Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities and Homi Bhabha’s edited volume, Nation and Narration, will provide its contours. At the same time, some writings on pre-colonial representations of India will be studied (C.A. Bayly, Origins of South Asian Nationality.), in order to argue that the ‘Indian nation’ was not solely a manufacture of European political thought, colonial conquest and anti-colonial nationalism, as has been widely held. Richard Allen and Harish Trivedi, eds. Literature and Nation provides a good bibliography of writings on nation and nationalism (including excerpts from Tagore’s essay on nationalism). The texts, histories, and controversies around the two Indian national anthems, composed by Bankim Chandra and Tagore respectively, will provide a ‘core’ around which these questions will be arranged.
Class 2: Here we will try to show how the early colonial versions of Indian history, especially James Mill’s History of India (1811), presented what was to become an influential argument about a static Indian past, a Vedic ‘Golden Age’ now sunk into torpor. Marx’s deployment of this, and its counter/appropriation by early nationalists like Bankim Chandra (Anandmath), will then be examined. Said’s Orientalism (1978), and examples of the Orientalist-Anglicist controversy in India will also be addressed (Kopf, Bengal Renaissance.). Contemporary historians’ critiques of Mill (Javed Majeed), Marx (Perry Anderson), and Bankim (Sudipta Kaviraj, Tanika Sarkar), will be included in the reading list. Selections from Richard Allen and Harish Trivedi, eds. Literature and Nation, will be used to understand the ‘first encounters’ between the British and India.
Class 3: The third class will focus on the period from the late nineteenth century to World War I and the major writings of Empire (eg. Rudyard Kipling, Flora Annie Steel and E.M. Forster). The intention is to explore the interconnections between literary and official (Raj) representations of India during the socalled ‘High Noon’ of Empire, and particularly to notions of race, nation and class. Set texts include Kipling’s Kim and Forster’s Passage to India. Alongside these we will look at official views of India in government publications such as the decennial census, and at the historiographical controversy over the place of race and class in British colonial thought – seen, for example, in Edward Said’s Orientalism and David Cannadine’s Ornamentalism.
Class 4: This seminar will focus on social reform, the ‘Woman Question’ and nationalism in the second half of the nineteenth century. Rabindranath Tagore’s Home and the World is a key text through which to highlight various key issues: Swadeshi, the image of women as ‘Mother India’, Hindu-Muslim relations, and ‘feudalism’. Historical texts will include Tapan Raychaudhuri’s Europe Reconsidered: Perceptions of the West in Nineteenth Century Bengal.