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Autobiography of an Archive

Autobiography of an Archive: A Scholar's Passage to India

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    Autobiography of an Archive
    Book Description:

    The decades between 1970 and the end of the twentieth century saw the disciplines of history and anthropology draw closer together, with historians paying more attention to social and cultural factors and the significance of everyday experience in the study of the past. The people, rather than elite actors, became the focus of their inquiry, and anthropological insights into agriculture, kinship, ritual, and folk customs enabled historians to develop richer and more representative narratives. The intersection of these two disciplines also helped scholars reframe the legacies of empire and the roots of colonial knowledge.

    In this collection of essays and lectures, history's turn from high politics and formal intellectual history toward ordinary lives and cultural rhythms is vividly reflected in a scholar's intellectual journey to India. Nicholas B. Dirks recounts his early study of kingship in India, the rise of the caste system, the emergence of English imperial interest in controlling markets and India's political regimes, and the development of a crisis in sovereignty that led to an extraordinary nationalist struggle. He shares his personal encounters with archives that provided the sources and boundaries for research on these subjects, ultimately revealing the limits of colonial knowledge and single disciplinary perspectives. Drawing parallels to the way American universities balance the liberal arts and specialized research today, Dirks, who has occupied senior administrative positions and now leads the University of California at Berkeley, encourages scholars to continue to apply multiple approaches to their research and build a more global and ethical archive.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53851-0
    Subjects: Anthropology, History, Political Science, Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. VII-X)
  4. Introduction: Passage to India
    (pp. 1-24)

    I set off on my first passage to India when I was twelve years old. My father had a Fulbright grant to teach at Madras Christian College, in Tambaram, southern India, and he decided to take our entire family with him for the year. I remember being told about my family’s plans some time during the winter of 1963, imagining in the long Connecticut winter that India would mean seeing tigers, elephants, and jungles, but understanding little else. I had met my father’s host, the new (and first Indian) principal of the college, who had stayed with us periodically while...

  5. Part I. Autobiography

    • 1 Annals of the Archive: Ethnographic Notes on the Sources of History
      (pp. 27-49)

      The first time I entered an archive, I panicked. My historical zeal inexplicably vanished as I desperately stemmed a welling desire to exit immediately and search for the nearest pub. I saw before me the thousands of documents I could indent, the books I might read, the files I had to wade through. I tried to imagine which index to consult, what department to decipher, how best to control the chaos of what seemed an infinite chain of documents. My proposal for research, so lucid a minute before, seemed inappropriate, unwise, nigh impossible. I felt embarrassed to expose my ignorance...

    • 2 Autobiography of an Archive
      (pp. 50-69)

      I have told the story of how I came to use the Mackenzie archive for my first major research work, and I provided some sense not just of its importance but of some of the questions I brought to, and then took away from, this transformative archival encounter. This chapter provides a more detailed look both at the archive and my encounter with it. The first volume of T. V. Mahalingam’s new catalog of the Mackenzie Collection was published in 1972, the year I went to begin my graduate studies in Indian history.¹ As I built my own work on...

    • 3 Preface to the Second Edition of The Hollow Crown
      (pp. 70-80)

      In writingThe Hollow Crown, I came to see culture differently than I had in my graduate school days. Culture might be a domain of “meaning,” as anthropologists had come to insist, but it could simply not be detached from power or from history; by the time I started drafting the final manuscript in the summer of 1984, it seemed no longer possible to describe culture as unitary, stable, or straightforwardly dominant. As I developed a new sense of cultural form, practice, and meaning, I attempted to incorporate this new “cultural” sensibility in my own writing; at the very least,...

  6. Part II. History and Anthropology

    • 4 Castes of Mind: The Original Caste
      (pp. 83-108)

      When we think of India it is hard not to think of caste. In comparative sociology and in common parlance, caste has become a central metaphor for India, indexing it as fundamentally different from other places, expressing its essence. A long history of writing, from the grand treatise of the Abbé Dubois to the general anthropology of Louis Dumont, or from the desultory observations of Portuguese adventurers in the sixteenth century to the eye-catching headlines of theNew York Times, has identified caste as the basic form and expression of Indian society. Caste has been seen as always there in...

    • 5 Ritual and Resistance: Subversion as a Social Fact
      (pp. 109-131)

      The social history of modern India has developed side by side with anthropology. Often, social history has simply received its fundamental understandings of what constitutes “society” in India from an anthropology that itself betrays all too clearly the traces of colonial forms of knowledge about India. While social historians of areas outside of South Asia (or other Third World areas of special interest to anthropology) have worked in greater autonomy from anthropology, they have recently turned to anthropology to enable them to understand many aspects of social life that had not been addressed by political or intellectual history and that...

    • 6 The Policing of Tradition: Colonialism and Anthropology in Southern India
      (pp. 132-168)

      In late October 1891, the Madras Mail brought dramatic attention to the fact that “the barbarous and cruel custom of hookswinging to propitiate the Goddess of Rain, which has been obsolete for some time, has been revived at Sholavandan near Madura.”¹ The newspaper describes this event with scandalized disapproval.

      The manner in which this horrible custom is carried out consists in passing iron hooks through the deep muscles of the back, attaching a rope to the hooks, and (after the method of a well sweep) swinging the victim to a height several feet above the heads of the people. The...

  7. Part III. Empire

    • 7 Imperial Sovereignty
      (pp. 171-198)

      In the last decades of the eighteenth century Britain abandoned its experiment in American colonization and Asian trade in favor of a different kind of imperial ambition. Along with this ambition came a developing crisis concerning ideas of sovereignty. This chapter is directed to examining some of the tensions produced by empire in the developing eighteenth-century consensus about sovereignty. Empire might have been brought to its ultimate test by colonial nationalism in the twentieth century, but it had already endured a major crisis when the European nation-state itself was formed two centuries earlier. During this formation, an uneasy break was...

    • 8 Bringing the Company Back In: The Scandal of Early Global Capitalism
      (pp. 199-210)

      It is no small irony that, only a short time after the most spectacular illustration of corporate greed and irresponsibility in recent history, the state has become so much the subject of attack that it seems hard to remember any of the real lessons of the 2008 economic crash. Massive cuts in federal funding are justified by a rhetoric of total faith in the free market. As the short-lived political will behind regulation and enforcement has evaporated, the state itself has been targeted as the agent of our current discontent.

      The focus I put on corruption and scandal as fundamental...

    • 9 The Idea of Empire
      (pp. 211-228)

      When Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri published their influential book,Empire, in 2000, it seemed unexceptional to many readers to assume that the term “empire” could be wrested away from its old meaning to apply to a new organizing principle for the global capitalist social order they described.¹ The age of empire had given way to the age of globalization, with the demise of the Cold War, dramatic changes in the European Union, the increasing spread and reach of international organizations, the economic rise of China and India, and clear indications of the potential power of new postnational social and...

  8. Part IV. The Politics of Knowledge

    • 10 In Near Ruins: Cultural Theory at the End of the Century
      (pp. 231-248)

      The English patient of Ondaatje’s novel is a man burnt black beyond recognition, beyond identity. Cared for by a shell-shocked Canadian nurse, he lies in the Villa San Girolamo, a bombed-out ruin in the hills north of Florence, a structure that once housed a nunnery and then the Germans. They mined the place when they left, only to have it taken over by the Allies as a hospital and morgue. By the time the novel opens, the only patient left is a man who has forgotten his name and lost his history. His body, iconic in early passages of the...

    • 11 G. S. Ghurye and the Politics of Sociological Knowledge
      (pp. 249-264)

      It is a great honor to be asked to deliver the first Ghurye Memorial Lecture in the Department of Sociology at Bombay University. Dr. Ghurye not only played the signal role in establishing this department as one of the leading departments of sociology in India; he was the most influential Indian academic to write about Indian sociology during the colonial period. The basic facts of Professor Ghurye’s life and work are well known here: his academic training in Bombay and Cambridge; his long service as head of the Department of Sociology at Bombay University from 1924 until his retirement in...

    • 12 South Asian Studies: Futures Past
      (pp. 265-290)

      South Asian studies in the United States began in the conjuncture between Sanskritic scholarship and the strategic concerns and contexts of World War II.¹ This conjuncture has had vast importance in the shaping of South Asian area studies, which in its early years was dominated by a fascination on the one hand with ancient Indic civilization and on the other with contemporary society, politics, and economy. Only in recent years (the 1990s) have the fields of colonial and postcolonial studies, modern history, and contemporary cultural studies emerged as a new kind of foundation for the study of South Asia. It...

  9. Part V. University

    • 13 Franz Boas and the American University: A Personal Account
      (pp. 293-302)

      I begin with a confession. Strictly speaking, I had no business being asked to be the Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology at Columbia. I knew very little about Boas from my graduate education at the University of Chicago and, even while teaching courses on the history of anthropology, had included only short sections of Boas on the syllabus. Partly this was because of my focus on Asia and Africa, the sites of British colonial history, and my interest in the relationship of anthropology to all that. And partly this was because of the disciplinary formation of anthropology at Chicago, which...

    • 14 Scholars and Spies: Worldly Knowledge and the Predicament of the University
      (pp. 303-320)

      Franz Boas was without debate the most important anthropologist in the United States during his long career, most of which he spent at Columbia University. He founded the first American department of anthropology in 1896 and trained some of America’s most important anthropologists before retiring after forty years of chairing his department. Many of his students went off to other major universities to establish departments of anthropology that carried on his work and academic mission, including Alfred Kroeber of Berkeley and Melville Herskovitz of Northwestern. Boas famously trained Zora Neale Hurston, Margaret Mead, and Ruth Benedict and collaborated directly with...

    • 15 The Opening of the American Mind
      (pp. 321-338)

      When Allan Bloom’s infamous book,The Closing of the American Mind, was published in 1987, it was, as Camille Paglia later declared, the “first shot of the culture wars.”¹ Bloom’s book—by any account an odd amalgam of polemical denunciation, philosophical argument, and autobiographical memoir—quickly generated a spirited debate about college life, the place of the liberal arts, and as Bloom put it, “the state of our soul.” The book sold close to half a million copies in hardback and was number one on theNew York Timesbestseller list for four months. Roger Kimball, who went on to...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 339-370)
  11. Permissions
    (pp. 371-372)
  12. Index
    (pp. 373-390)