Reports of previous seminars
International Conference on 'Material Culture in Pre-colonial India' in collaboration with the Centre for Historical Studies (SSS), November 3-4, 2016
On November 3-4, 2016, an international conference on 'Material Culture in Pre-Colonial India' was organized by the Centre for Historical Studies, JNU at the Conference Hall of the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Advanced Studies. The conference was funded by the Bhagat Singh Chair, the conveners being Professors Vijaya Ramaswamy and Suraiya Faroqhi along with Dr. Ranjeeta Dutta, Dr. Gunasekharan and student volunteers.
It brought together a dozen historians from global academia who explored a wide range of themes on the subject. The presentations were intense and extremely informative. The discussions that followed each panel were highly engaging, stimulating and critical. It was fascinating to see how regional and temporal continuities collided, coincided, overlapped and were shaped and reshaped over time and space. The sessions were thematically arranged in a sequence that allowed a smooth and steady flow of academic conversation on the theme. Debates and discussions centred around the production and meaning of objects from proto-history to the present day; the relationship between value and materiality of objects; facets of everyday life in terms of the utilitarian purpose of these objects; how they enabled an understanding of the contemporary social history. Theoretical aspects were also raised in the discussions as well as how these objects could serve as source materials for the writing of history and for constructing their own trajectories.
The papers presented touched upon objects procured by archaeologists during their field work which were extremely interesting findings; on the cultural life of objects ranging from textiles, food items such as spices; on weaponry and their uses in early modern warfare in South Asia; on the production, consumption, circulation of these objects; on how they constituted a crucial category of markets and economy before the colonial takeover. In analysing continuities that are integral to changes, this academic meet challenged the hegemony of simplistic periodisation. The papers covered a huge time period- from proto history till the eighteenth century and extending into the early years of colonial rule and encapsulated regions extending from the Thar Desert to eastern India; from the Indo-Gangetic plain to Kerela across the Deccan. The conference, especially with papers on the technical issues related to materialities which are often overlooked in historical research, also emphasized on interdisciplinary networks in present-day academia was an extremely enriching experience. The panelists ensured that the sessions began and were winded up on time, allowing scope for complete presentations and rigorous question-answer session, yet ensuring that the participants were not deprived of the culinary delights that awaited after each session.
International Workshop on "Translating Disability Across Cultures: The Translation and Representation of Disability in Modern Indian Short Stories", Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Advanced Study (JNIAS) with the academic support of the International Association for Translation and Intercultural Studies (IATIS), in association with Routledge, September 14-16, 2016.
A three day international workshop on "Translating Disability Across Cultures: The Translation and Representation of Disability in Modern Indian Short Stories" was organized by the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Advanced Study (JNIAS) with the academic support of the International Association for Translation and Intercultural Studies (IATIS), in association with Routledge. The workshop was held in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) from 14 – 16 September 2016. Prof GJV Prasad, Director, JNIAS offered the welcome address and the valedictory remarks at the workshop. Dr. Someshwar Sati, workshop convenor and Assistant Professor, Kirori Mal College, introduced the theme of the workshop. Short stories from twelve different Indian languages – Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, Assamese, Gujarati, Oriya, Marathi, Malayalam, Telegu, Kannada, Punjabi and Tamil - were translated to English by participants from fourteen different states of India – Delhi, Chandigarh, Gujarat, Assam, West Bengal, Orissa, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Goa. Some of the stories translated included 'Subha' (Rabindranath Tagore), 'Drishtidaan' (Tagore), 'Koobad' (Khalid Javed) and 'One Eyed Uncle' (Laksmikanta Mohapatra). The list of forty-three papers that were presented, including the keynote address by Prof. M Asaduddin, Jamia Milia Islamia, on "New Frontiers in Traslation Studies and Reflections on Disability" has been attached with the report.
Disabled characters have been a part of Indian literature since its inception. Dhritarashtra in The Mahabharata or Shravana Kumar's parents in The Ramayana, for instance, are characters that the Indian reader is familiar with. However, there is the lack of a discursive category of Disability Literature in India, even today. Essential questions were explored during the course of the workshop: what qualifies as disability literature? (A text written by a disabled author on any theme or a text written on disability by either a disabled or a non-disabled author?) Why do we need to translate these stories? Who are we translating these stories for? (The disabled reader who does not have access to this particular language? The non-disabled reader who does not have access to this language or to disability as an academic discourse?)
Translation studies have shown a special affinity to marginality discourses – race, caste, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. However, disability is often lost among other the discourse on the aforementioned minority-based subjectivities. The idea behind the workshop was to come up with a comprehensive theory on the translation practices involved in creating wider access for a text on disability written in any Indian language. During the course of the workshop the participants came to the realization that translation studies can indeed grant a certain degree of visibility to the area of disability by bolstering narratives ideologically committed to discussing the disabled. On the one hand the workshop has produced English translations of short stories on disability from various Indian languages. It has also been able to generate theoretical, critical, academic papers on the need for translating disability texts from these languages to English in India.
Translation is not simply a process of conveying meaning from one language system to another. It is also about translating cultures and it has a larger political and academic purpose. Translation can be a form of social activism. The workshop explored, through translations, how disability is constructed and conceived of in different languages and cultures and the possibilities of negotiating around a suitable idiom that could aptly represent the discourse on disability and present this narrative as an alternative to the ableist hegemonic notion of clinical disability, physical and social functionality and normativity. The workshop was an active intervention to create some disturbance around the subject of disability in the Indian academia.
A lecture on "Rough Music: Living Art, Poetry and Politics in post-apartheid South Africa". March 11, 2016.
Professor Ari Sitas (Head, Department of Sociology, University of Cape Town; Bhagat Singh Chair, Centre for Historical Studies, JNU) delivered a lecture on this topic on the 11th of March 2016, in Room Number 16, SLL&CS (Old Building) at 4:00 pm.
Screening of the documentary "Singing Pictures". March 10, 2016.
This documentary, directed by Lina Fruzzetti, Akos Ostor, Aditi Nath Sarkar was screened on the 10th of March, 2016 at the Committee Room, SLL&CS (Old Building) from 4:30 pm onwards. This was followed by an interaction with the directors, Prof Lina Fruzzetti (Brown University) and Professor Emeritus Akos Ostor (Wesleyn University). This documentary followed the lives of women painters from the Patua community of Bengal who candidly discussed issues of Islam and birth control, victimization of women, female education, poverty and work and religious tolerance and intolerance.
Eighth IASA Biennial Conference (organized by IASA in collaboration with JNIAS) Conflict and Resistance in Multicultural India and Australia, 17th-20th January 2016, JNU Convention Centre, New Delhi
The Indian Association for the Study of Australia (IASA) organized the Eight IASA Biennial Conference this year in collaboration with the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Advanced Study (JNIAS), New Delhi. Held at the Jawaharlal Nehru University Convention Centre from the 17th-20th January, 2016, it was a four day long grand affair. It began with the Inaugural Programme on the first day, where Prof. SK Sareen gave the welcome address and officially inaugurated the conference. The occasion was made special by the presence of two eminent guests - Ambassador Biren Nanda and Professor GVC Naidu, who presented the plenary addresses. However, the highlight of the evening was the felicitation of Prof. Sareen by the IASA committee members for his immense contribution to the body - "the rock on which this entire organization was built".
Despite the foggy wintry mornings of Delhi, the conference saw a huge participation by delegates - both national as well as international. The academic sessions of the conference was set into motion with a plenary lecture by Pradeep Trikha the very next day, with special focus on Ethel Anderson's Indian Tales. A total of thirty-one presentations were neatly fitted into nine sessions, consisting of four parallel ones, two plenary panels and two other plenary lectures, over the next three days. With brilliant presentations, followed by invigorating discussions, the academic sessions turned out to be super engaging. The other two plenary lectures, one by Anne Brewster and the other by Peter Gale, raised certain interesting questions regarding the multiculturalism of Indian and Australian communities by focusing on "Dalit and Aboriginal Literatures" and the elements of "Fear and Hope" in the literature of both the countries respectively. Special mention should also be made of the two plenary panels, comprising six presentations, which brought forward many other elements that represented the various multicultural strands of both the countries.
The presentations were so thought provoking that it led to discussions being carried forward into the little tea-breaks or lunch-breaks in between these academic sessions. However, the conference dinner, organized on the 18th of January was of a completely different flavour. Preceded by a cultural programme - which saw performances by the students of JNU, the occasion provided ample space for the delegates to relax and interact with each other on a much more informal level. Keeping with the theme of the conference, the cultural programme was planned in order to showcase the plurality of the country. On one end it tried to bring forth the classical art-forms of the country, on the other hand it also tried to accommodate the folk art-forms as well as contemporary performances.
The General Body Meeting was held on the third day of the conference where all the IASA members got together to discuss the progress that the organization had made over the last two years. The biennial report was presented by Dr. Swati Pal, while all the discussions were moderated by Prof. SK Sareen. Having completed its four year tenure, the executive committee called for fresh elections in order to elect a new body. The new committee was unanimously elected, with Prof. Makarand Paranjape taking up the presidential post, Prof. Pradeep Trikha as the general secretary and Dr. Kriti Kapur as the treasurer. It was decided to keep the Vice-President's position vacant, to be filled in later if required. Prof. SK Sareen agreed to remain a part of the organization as a Chair (Emeritus). Apart from this, Dr. Malathy A. along with previous committee members like Prof. GJV Prasad, Dr. Swati Pal, and Dr. Meenakshi Bharat were elected as the other executive body members. The new committee was presented with saplings as a symbol of a new beginning under their undertaking with the hope that the organization would branch out and reach higher levels in the following four years.
The 8th Indo-Japanese Workshop, organized by the Centre for Historical Studies and Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Advanced Study, January 7-8, 2016
The 8th Indo-Japanese workshop was organized by the Centre for Historical Studies and Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Advance Studies on 7 and 8 January 2016. The main agenda of the workshop was to reconsider the 19th century from Asian Perspective. While challenging the euro-centric perspective of looking at the Asian economic history, the workshop tried to look at the economic history of 19th century Asia from an alternative perspective.
Numbers of eminent historians of India and Japan had presented papers. On this occasion, Prof. Irfan Habib delivered the keynote address. Professor Tasukasa Mizushima, The University of Tokyo, presented a paper on the Agricultural Development and social transformation in the Long Nineteenth. Prof. Shigeru Akita, Osaka University presented a paper on the Indian industrialization and East Asia at the turn of the 19th -20th Century. Several other Historians from Japan presented several papers on the economic and ecological history of the East Asian countries.
Among the Indian Scholars, Prof Aditya Mukherjee talked about the India in the 19th century Global Econom. Dr. Rakesh Batabyal discussed political economy of Famines. Dr. Amit Kumar Mishra and Prof. Sunanda Sen presented papers on indentured labour.
Stimulating discussion on each paper and positive responses from the students contributed to the successful completion of the workshop.
A talk by Saikat Majumdar and reading of excerpts from his new book The Firebird held at JNIAS, December 2, 2015 at 3:00 p.m.
An interactive session was organised by the Jawaharlal Institute of Advanced Study on the December 2, 2015 at 3pm, where Saikat Majumdar, Assistant Professor, Stanford University, read out excerpts from his book The Firebird in the JNIAS Committee Room. Dr. Majumdar, a former JNIAS Fellow, has previously taught at the Centre for English Studies, JNU, which was around the same time he also finished writing the novel.
Prof. GJV Prasad, Director of JNIAS, began the talk by highlighting the significance of the venue for Dr. Saikat who spent hours in solitude at JNIAS writing his novel. This was followed by Dr. Majumdar who read out excerpts from his second novel The Firebird explaining his ideas and inspirations behind those excerpts. The novel revolves around the theatre scene in Bengal around the time the communist regime took over and the narrative is in the form of a Bildungsroman and is from the perspective of a child. This was followed by questions and comments by the audience and a discussion on Bengal theatre, Bildungsroman and the difference between writing criticism and writing fiction. A member of the audience also mentioned the animated, dramatic way in which Dr. Saikat read out the excerpts which led to a short discussion on performance in everyday life. The session ended with Prof. Prasad thanking the speaker and the audience and was followed by tea and snacks.
International Conference on Configuring Early Modern South Asia in collaboration with CHS/SSS and Trinity College Dublin, at JNIAS, November 12-13, 2015
The Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Advanced Study (JNIAS), JNU hosted an international conference 'Configuring Early Modern South Asia', that was held on 12-13 November, 2015. The conference was organized by the History Department, Trinity College Dublin with the academic support of the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. It was funded by a European Union grant (Spectress) along with a supplementary financial assistance from the Medieval History Society.
The conference brought together 18 papers by a number of distinguished historians and researchers with the objective to foster new ideas to study the multiple trajectories of the early modern era in the subcontinent. The two-day conference was simply remarkable both in terms of the papers that were presented as well as the lively discussions that followed. Particularly fascinating were the debates on the problematic category of the 'early modern' itself. New questions were raised on the periodisation of history into distinct, often water-tight, zones that has been an unavoidable hallmark of history writing. The politics of constructing such temporal spheres, with regard to the Indian subcontinent, have been constantly interrogated and argued by historians for a long time now. By providing a platform to scholars working on South Asia to present their research to a critical audience, the conference opened up novel and innovative ways to understand a period that has been a heavily contested terrain both within and beyond the world of academia.
The themes of the conference encapsulated a wide range of topics such as geographical and physical spaces, gender and domesticity, travel narratives, literature, religion, political economy and identity formation. The sessions of the conference were attended by students and teachers in good numbers and excellent coordination by the chairs ensured that all the panels begun and closed at the scheduled times. All the papers addressed the chief concern of the conference, were insightful and thought provoking and opened up many new dimensions through which one can imagine the early modern era. The academic engagement, apart from the fact that it was a tremendous learning experience for both the participants and the audience, also set into flow an amazing academic conversation between the researchers.
International Conference of the Linguistic Society ICOLSI-37 in collaboration with CL/SLL&CS, Convention Centre, Oct 15-18, 2015
Over 275 delegates - students and faculty working on Indian languages and linguistics, from all over India participated in this conference. Thanks to the sponsorship given by the DONER ministry, the conference saw the largest ever participation of scholars from the North-East of India. The International workshop on the Languages of the North-East @ICOLSI-37 featured a total of forty-four presentations spread over three days, but mainly concentrated on the third and final day, i.e. 17 November 2015. In the inaugural session, presided over by Prof. Prasenjit Sen, Rector-II Jawaharlal Nehru University, Mr. A.M. Singh, Joint Secretary DONER, emphasised the importance of not only awareness generation of the linguistic diversity of the North-East, but also the need for concrete plans that could be translated into results that would be beneficial for the citizens of the North-Eastern states. He urged the delegates at the workshop to deliberate upon a set of outcomes that could be implemented in a staged fashion. The session closed with the keynote address delivered by Prof. Scott DeLancey "Contemporary perspectives on Trans-Himalayan linguistics in North East India". The conference successfully showcased the theoretical and descriptive advances in linguistic studies of the languages of the North East through talks and poster presentations (selected through an abstract reviewing process). It helped enable scholars working on the languages of the North-East (whether faculty, students or independent scholars) to share knowledge and experiences with scholars working on other language families. It also facilitated students from the North-East to participate in this annual gathering of Indian linguists so as to build capacity for further research and inquiry into the languages of the North-East. It helped build awareness amongst Indian linguists and the general public about the linguistic diversity and multilingual character of the North-East of India and the importance of preservation of that diversity. Having hosted the workshop as part of the programme of the 37th International Conference of the Linguistic Society of India meant that the research results shared by scholars working on languages of the Indian North-East could be disseminated with the largest gathering of linguists in the country. Many conversations about methodology of research and cross-linguistic comparison were initiated. For linguists from the rest of India, this was for many the first exposure to the incredible linguistic diversity of the North-East, and participants learned a lot about the shared and unique aspects of the language families of the North-East, specially the lesser known languages of the region.
Eight Sessions of Humanities Reading Group held at JNIAS on Aug 22, Sep 5 and 19, October 3, 17 and 31, November 14 and 28
The Humanities Now reading group, spread out over eight sessions through the semester - all of which was conducted at JNIAS, delved into a variety of concerns relevant to contemporary knowledge production and academic practice. The first three sessions dealt with definitional questions framing the disciplinary rubric of the 'humanities'; the next three sessions foregrounded questions of research practice and methodology; and the final two sessions explored questions of pedagogy. The broad thematic divisions, however, did not prevent a constant overlapping of concerns, from various disciplinary vantage-points and social contexts. The orientation of the reading group was, in fact, to synthesise the various concerns; to look at them relationally.
The first three sessions, centred around essays by Helen Small, Toby Miller, Stefan Collini, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, among others – attempted to contextualise the rubric of the humanities in historical, aesthetic, and political terms: what are the kinds of definitional anxieties marking the humanities in contemporary contexts? The responses were varied: some participants suggested it was necessary to reclaim the humanities as an essential aid to critical thinking and aesthetic practice in the face of increasing market commodification; whereas others emphasised the need to move away from defensive or narrow debates and shift focus to the logic of knowledge production as a whole. Questions of method were pre-empted in the third session, through a comparative analysis of older philological traditions and the future-oriented digital humanities: most welcomed the drive towards the digital, as a medium to carry forward philological goals of comparison as well as a democratising force for educational access, but expressed anxieties about the programmatic and objective constructions of 'analysis' offered therein.
The next three sessions confronted questions of method in the humanities, while the fourth session, centred around essays by Clifford Geertz and Thomas Docherty, looked at the framing of research in contemporary academic practice – as producing conceptual metaphors or meta-narratives applicable for all disciplines but also developed within contexts of surveillance and control. The fifth session explored the question of method from different disciplinary locations, namely, history, performance studies, and literary studies, and found remarkable commonalities of orientation; and finally, while the sixth session, using readings by Sukanta Chaudhuri and Jacques Ranciere among others, prompted a discussion on the role of the 'text' in research practice – as a material and metaphysical embodiment; and as an aesthetic, ideological, and economic artefact.
The final two sessions, centred around essays by Paolo Freire and Sharmila Rege, veered towards an often neglected concern in discussions about academic practice: pedagogy. Participants, from disciplinary locations such as English Studies, History, Linguistics, Economics, and Science Studies, shared concerns about the difficulties of translating discursive understandings into learning modules and offered experiential accounts of problems frequently faced in educational spaces: alienation from texts and disciplinary concerns; the constant need to re-produce knowledge within a logic of competition and segmentation; and the lack of cross-disciplinary exchanges. There were clear disagreements among the participants about how the future of the humanities – and by extension, higher educational practice – should be framed; but there was deep consensus about the need to dispel sectarian interests within higher education and clarify and nuance disciplinary goals from the perspective of those considered 'outside' hegemonic disciplinary logics: whether they be disadvantaged or struggling students/practitioners or knowledge constructions considered irrelevant or marginal. A more holistic, and perhaps eclectic, vision of the humanities emerged through the reading group sessions.