Research Projects

India Centre of GHIL

The India Centre of the German Historical Institute London came into existence in early 2018. It originated in the collaborative Transnational Research Group on Poverty Reduction and Policy for the Poor between the State and Private Actors: Education Policy in India since the Nineteenth Century, which was set up in 2013 under the direction of the German Historical Institute London (GHIL) with funding provided by the Max Weber Stiftung. Since 2015 it has been part of the M.S. Merian – R. Tagore International Centre of Advanced Studies ‘Metamorphose of the Political: Comparative Perspectives on the Long Twentieth Century’ (ICAS:MP) as member and coordinator in the module History as a Political Category (see below). In continuation of its interest in the theme of education and poverty in 2017 the Centre started another research group on Education and the Urban. Further research projects are expected to follow in 2018.

Education and the Urban

A research group on the topic started in late 2017. The group aims to examine the relation between education and the urban in a society that has undergone rapid and complex processes of urbanisation in the seven decades since independence from colonial rule in 1947. A special focus of the group is on marginalisation and its relationship with education and the urban. The project takes a multi-sited approach to understanding the way in which marginalisation in education is configured in the urban space. The core group consists of four principal investigators who investigate specific aspects of education in four different cities of India (Bengaluru, Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata); postdoctoral researchers and a network of scholars working on the theme in both larger and smaller urban centres. Contributions from external scholars take the form of participation in conferences and workshops of the Research Group and a set working papers on the theme. The Research Group will initially be funded by the India Research Programme of the Max Weber Stiftung, with participatory, proportionate funding for events in India by project partners in India. Read more

Poverty and Education in India

The Transnational Research Group (TRG) Poverty and Education in India (2013-17) focuses on social and educational policy in India since the nineteenth century. It consists of a number of multi-perspective and interdisciplinary research projects on seven thematic areas. The research of the TRG lends itself to regional and global comparative perspectives. It is the first research group of its kind at an institute of the Max Weber Stiftung. Read more

Selling history: Tourist guides, bazaar histories, and the politics of the past
Project as part of ICAS: MP TM1

The project started in August 2017 as a part of the module History as a Political Category of the recently established MS Merian/ R Tagore International Centre of Advanced Studies: Metamorphosis of the Political. It is a joint project of Neeladri Bhattacharya (JNU Delhi), Indra Sengupta (GHI London), and a research assistant, Paulami Guha Biswas, and will continue till 2020/21.

Research questions: How do we understand popular historical consciousness and the ways in which it constitutes political subjectivities? In order to understand popular historical consciousness and the ways in which it constitutes political subjectivities we need to move beyond the politics of academic history writing. It is clear from events that have unfolded over recent decades in India and in recent years in most parts of the western world, that the sense of history that mediates political action is not always shaped by academic histories but by notions of the past and its meaning that academic history is often inadequately equipped to grasp. However, in order to grasp political change and its relationship with history as cause and effect we need to trace the processes that go into the making of such notions of the past, identify the heterogeneity within this seemingly collective historical conscience, and unpack the worlds they open up. We need to look at the political uses of history for the assertion of identities – common or competitive – that may not have engaged with the nation-state or did so in various, complicated ways that defy the framework of national or larger regional narratives of the past. This requires that we identify what people read, and the historical narratives they hear on smaller, local levels and at sites where the nation, the region and other larger entities were reconfigured in ways specific to a place. We need to see how these genres of popular historical narratives come to frame notions of historical truth, and visions of the past, shaping everyday action.

One way of entering this world of the popular is to explore the power that tourist guides and popular tracts or chap books have in shaping ideas of the past. Tourist guidebooks constitute the visitor as a tourist, a consumer in search of a product: information about a place. The stories that circulate through tourist books often find their way into the collective conscience, fashioning minds, forming social and political attitudes, and shaping action. Popular tracts and chap books sold on the streets and bazaars all over India serve a similar end. These are rarely written by academic historians but are widely read, including by those who also read academic history. The project looks at both the content and the context of such histories: it looks at what kinds of narratives of the past are recounted, who writes and publishes these books, how they are financed, who reads them, and thereby tries to understand how the political constitutes and in turn is constituted by these popular histories.

The project will analyse popular tourist books from different parts of India that have been published over the last 60 years (often – though not always – around a historical structure of local, regional, even national, importance) and in addition collect these tracts with a view to digitising these collections for open access. The fieldwork for the project started in August 2017 ata a wide range of sites in northern and eastern India, where religion, history, heritage practises and politics have been entangled in complicated ways. Following the preliminary phase, the project will focus on 3 or 4 specific kinds of sites (e.g. sites of religious conflicts, or caste and tribal conflicts, and sites of tourist importance that have gone into the making of political identity and assertions). A second round of fieldwork is planned with a more intense focus on a smaller range of sites. Fieldwork will be followed by archival research tracing the earlier, colonial histories of such locally produced and circulated popular histories and travel guides.

Archives of Indian Labour

The project is a pilot study which will contribute to the larger research initiative of the extended “Archives of Indian Labour”, which aims to build up a digitised archive of sources of Indian labour history. It focuses on the collections of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) that are housed in the V.V. Giri National Labour Institute (Noida, India). The collections form an important resource for the history of Indian labour because they include archival material and documents in English, Urdu, Hindi and other vernacular languages acquired from different state centres and industrial sectors from late 1940s to mid-1980s.

The work is envisaged in two parts: first, the existing, scanned material from the collection of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) housed in the V.V. Giri National Labour Institute (Noida, India) will be processed. The objective of this exercise is to standardise the existing files, homogenise the prevailing metadata, and bring it up to date with current technical facilities. Second, the project aims to identify gaps in the existing collection and take the initiative of scanning and processing further archival material from the AITUC collection, alongside updating the existing metadata in the light of the newly unearthed documents.

History as a Political Category:
M.S Merian – R. Tagore International Centre of Advanced Studies ‘Metamorphoses of the Political’ (ICAS:MP)

The M.S Merian – R. Tagore International Centre of Advanced Studies ‘Metamorphoses of the Political: Comparative Perspectives on the Long Twentieth Century’ (ICAS:MP) started in July 2015. ICAS:MP is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), and is based on a network of six Indian and German academic partner institutes who are engaged in six different thematic modules. ICAS: MP focuses on key political processes that have emerged in parallel in many parts of the world during the twentieth century through to the present day, processes that are entangled yet heterogeneous. Located in the Global South where ‘most of the world’ resides, ICAS:MP is thus not just another initiative to strengthen ‘Area Studies’ nor a base for narrowly bilateral Indo-German comparison. Rather, it serves as a centre of advanced international research located in India in order to consciously unsettle the methodological nationalism and Eurocentrism that continue to frame research in the humanities and social sciences. Read more