The Idea of Nationalism- International Conference on Teaching History 2016

‘The Idea of Nationalism’- the second International Conference on Teaching History was held on 10, 11 and 12 November 2016 in Calcutta.

This year’s conference looked at what is arguably the most contested idea of the 21st Century- Nationalism. We examined the construction of the concept of nationalism, the idea of what is an anti-national, the role of oral history, art and iconography in nationalism. Through discussion and debate, participants looked at ways in which these topics might be brought into the classroom—thereby opening up the school into a space for addressing relevant issues such as these.

Day one began with a keynote address by Sadanand Menon, contributing author of ‘On Nationalism’ and adjunct faculty, Asian College of Journalism, IIT Madras and Presidency University, Calcutta. Titled ‘ From National Culture to Cultural Nationalism’, he spoke on the change of national culture to the concept of cultural nationalism and the pitfalls of such an idea, which bases itself on culture.

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Following this, we moved onto a conversation between Rajni Bakshi, Gandhi Peace Fellow at Gateway House and Gulan Kripalani, transformational leadership facilitator. The conversation focused on the meaning of nationalism in pre and post Independence India.

After a break for lunch and a reflection time, the panel discussion on Nationalism and the School Curriculum, chaired by Ms Devi Kar saw Professor Anil Sethi, Dr. Nilanjana Gupta and Joyeeta Dey discuss different aspects of the curriculum, of history teaching and concepts of nation and nationalism.Euroclio ambassador Catharina Veldhuis-Meester spoke about the work and the methodology followed by Euroclio-which is the European Association of History Teachers followed by a screening of three short films by Pakistani filmmaker Bani Abidi and a discussion with her over Skype. The films centered around the concept of identity and the role that nationalism plays in it.

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Professor Janaki Nair began the proceedings on day two with a talk titled ‘What the Nation Really Needs to Know about JNU: Dissent, Sedition and the Difference it Makes’. Professor Nair, member of faculty at the Center for Historical Studies, JNU spoke about her work developing curricula for the NCERT and the events at JNU which brought back into popular discussion the concept of Nationalism. Moving on to the topic of Nationalism and the Left, Meher Ali, a Fulbright Scholar presented her research on student politics and the radical left in 1960s Calcutta, followed by a conversation between Meher, Tikender Panwar, Deputy Mayor of Shimla and Prof. Nair. The conversation was followed by a short workshop by Professor Anil Sethi, Azim Premji University on ‘ Is Nationalism a Dubious Construct?’

We moved onto the topic of Nationalism and Popular Culture, with Jerry Pinto, author and journalist, speaking on Bollywood as National (ist) Cinema and Deepa Sreenivas, associate professor at the University of Hyderabad speaking on History, Pedagogy and the Amar Chitra Katha.

Day three began with a keynote address by Dr. Malini Sur, senior research fellow, Western Sydney University on ‘ The 1960s: Thinking Beyond Borders’. Dr Sur spoke about her research with communities along the Bangladesh- India border.

We then moved onto the topic of Nationalism, Borders and Construction: Voices from the Ground. Abeer Gupta, assistant professor, Ambedkar University, chaired this panel discussion. Zainab Akhter, former research officer at the Institute of Peace and Conflict studies spoke about the research work that she has done in Kargil. Malik Sajad and Parismita Singh spoke on their experience as graphic novelists and how they engage with the idea of a nation.

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After lunch, Yousuf Saeed presented his work on iconography in India and Pakistan, detailing the similarities and the differences and possible reasons for these. He also presented Khayal Darpan, a documentary on the impact of Partition on Hindustani classical music.

We ended with an hour devoted to reflection where each of the groups of participants worked on developing ways by which they would take back what they had experienced during the last three days back to their classroom.

-Paroma Sengupta

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