The Idea of Culture

3, 4, 5 August 2018

Tentative Programme

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This conference is dedicated to the memory of PeaceWorks friend and patron Kozo Yamamura (1934 – 2017).

At History for Peace we are preoccupied with how History is being taught to our future generation—because history is a way of understanding the world around us. It is also a way of understanding the world in us.

History, unfortunately, is also a way to create tension. Textbooks, Media, Social media, Films, Literature—all of these are vehicles of historical narratives that can be true to transmitting knowledge down generations and at the same time prone to manipulation and misrepresentations.

At this year’s annual History for Peace conference we will explore The idea of culture with Romila Thapar and Audrey Truschke; understand the politics of representation; deconstruct textbooks with textbook writers and participate in hands on pedagogical workshops based on the concept of archives that open up the idea of material evidence used to imagine history.

Day 1 [ 3 August 2018]:

8. 30 a.m. Registration

9 a.m. Opening Address: Naveen Kishore, Managing Trustee, The Seagull Foundation for the Arts

9.15 a.m. – 1 p.m. The Shape of Culture through History- 2nd Millennium A.D

In conversation: Romila Thapar, Audrey Truschke, Kunal Chakrabarti and Anand V. Taneja.

Romila Thapar is an Indian historian whose principal area of study is ancient India. She is the author of several books including the popular volume, A History of India, and is currently Professor Emerita at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi. She has twice been offered the Padma Bhushan award, but has declined both times.

Audrey Truschke is Assistant Professor of South Asian History at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. She is the author of Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court and Aurangzeb: The Man and The Myth.

Dr Kunal Chakrabarti is Professor of Ancient Indian History in the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. He had also been Visiting Professor in Colorado College, and in Chicago University, USA. He was a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. His research interests include social history of religion, regional histories with special reference to Bengal, history of environment with special reference to the forest, early Indian political ideas and institutions, and early Indian textual traditions. He is the author of Religious Process: The Puranas and the Making of a Regional Tradition (Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2000) and Historical Dictionary of the Bengalis, (The Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Maryland, 2013). He has written the ‘Introduction’ for Romila Thapar, The Historian and Her CraftVol. 4: Religion and Society, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2018. He was the President of the Ancient History Section in the 76th Session of the Indian History Congress, held at the University of Gour Banga, Malda, 2015.

Anand V. Taneja is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Islamic Traditions of South Asia at Vanderbilt University. He received his Ph.D from Columbia University. His research work focuses on 1) How pre-colonial Islamic ethics and political theologies continue to inform shared religious practices, cultural forms (particularly Bombay cinema), and modes of relating to self and Other in contemporary South Asia. 2) How the textures of everyday life, including interactions with the state, altered experiences of temporality, and shifting ecologies, profoundly influence popular theology.

1 p.m. – 2 p.m. Lunch 

2 p.m.- 3.15 p.m. Politics of Representation

The Idea of Culture and Politics of Representation: Cross Border Perspectives: Sudeshna Guha

Sudeshna Guha studied South Asian history and archaeology, and was trained in field archaeology at Deccan College (Pune). After completing her Ph.D. on State formation in the Indus Civilization, she has developed research on visual histories of archaeological practices, photographic collections and their archiving, ethnographies of field work, historiography of Ancient India and the archaeological scholarship, and heritage archaeology and ethics. Her research enquiries comprise changing understanding of evidentiary terrains, constructs of archaeological knowledge and methodologies of material culture studies.

3.15 – 3.30 p.m. Coffee

3. 30 p.m. – 4.45 p.m. Representing the Past: The Politics of Enquiry: Sundar Sarukkai

The politics of representation has, almost always, an essential component of representation of the past, whether in the form of creating legends or temporal narratives of individuals and communities. In the context of history, this also involves various conceptualizations of ‘cultural time’ – a domain where culture and history meet. In this talk, Sarukkai will discuss some of the modes of enquiry that can help us deal with particular kinds of representation of ‘cultural time’, as well as their relation to the discipline of history in general.
Sundar Sarukkai is Professor of philosophy at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. He is the author of the following books: Translating the World: Science and Language; Philosophy of Symmetry; Indian Philosophy and Philosophy of Science; What is Science? and The Cracked Mirror: An Indian Debate on Experience and Theory (co-authored with Gopal Guru). 

4.45 p.m. – 6 p.m. What can take the place of a single, teachable, usable past?: Janaki Nair 

What is the future of the school history textbook as the single most important repository of the national past? More than ever before, the school history textbook has become an embattled object, the subject of many contestations from both above and below. Since the 1960s at least, many contests have been staged over the history text, which is today vulnerable not only to the political vagaries of governments, but also to the exclusive claims of myriad communities and groups to their sense of the past. Is a single, usable, teachable past any longer possible? This presentation uses the Indian predicament to discuss the possibility of building up a ‘historical temper’ in the Indian classroom.

Janaki Nair is professor of modern Indian history at the Centre for Historical Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, India.

Day 2 [4 August 2018]:

9 a.m. – 12 noon Deconstructing Textbooks: Naina Dayal, Bharati Jagannathan and Meenakshi Khanna.

Naina Dayal teaches history at St Stephen’s College, University of Delhi. Her research interests include the period c. 320 BCE-300 CE, during which the Sanskrit Ramayana and Mahabharata took shape. 

Bharati Jagannathan teaches the history of Modern Europe at Miranda House, University of Delhi. She writes for children, and conducts nature walks in Delhi where she identifies trees and tells stories from folktales and Indian mythology about indigenous trees.

Meenakshi Khanna teaches at Indraprastha College and has a Ph.D. from JNU. Her area of specialization is medieval India with research interests focusing on Indo-Islamic culture particularly Sufism. She is interested in narrative aspects of Sufi dreams and visions as described in Persian and Urdu sources and in Persian manuscript culture of illustrated translations. She has been involved with writing history textbooks for the SCERT and NCERT; and has drafted courses for the B.A. Honours course at the University of Delhi. This includes a course on cultural history of medieval India for non-history students for which she had prepared an anthology published in 2007.

12 noon – 1 p.m. Narratives of Conflict and Reconciliation: An interactive session with Kumkum Roy


The discussion draws on two texts from ancient India, an excerpt from the Ramayana and the Rohantamiga Jataka. Participants will be invited to reflect on the ways in which the figures of the king/prince, queen, forest dwellers and above all the deer are represented in these narratives and what are the possible messages about kingship, gender relations and wider categories of social stratification that can be recovered from these readings. Those who wish to do so may refresh memories of A. K. Ramanujan’s Three Hundred Ramayanas.

Kumkum Roy teaches ancient Indian History at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her publications include The Power of Gender and the Gender of Power. She is interested in issues of gender in particular and social stratification in general, as well as in issues of pedagogy ranging from school to higher education.

1 p.m. – 2 p.m. Lunch

2 p.m. – 3.30 p.m. Can History Contribute to Peace? : Krishna Kumar

Krishna Kumar is an Honorary Professor of Education at Punjab University. For most of his career, he served the Central Institute of Education, Delhi University. Between 2004 and 2010 he was Director of NCERT. His books include Politics of Education in Colonial India, Prejudice and Pride (a study of history textbooks in India and Pakistan), Battle for Peace, A Pedagogue’s Romance, and Education, Conflict and Peace. A Padma Shri awardee, he also has an Honorary DLitt from the Institute of Education, University of London.

3.30 p.m. – 3.45 p.m. Coffee

3.45 p.m. – 4.45 p.m. History as peace education: Latika Gupta

Dr Gupta’s expertise is in civic education as she was quite central in the preparation of NCERT’s VI-VIII ‘social and political life’ series. She is continuing Krishna Kumar’s work on peace education at Delhi University’s Department of Education.

4.45 p.m. – 6 p.m. Workshop – Mock Historian’s Craft

Day 3 [ 5 August 2018]:

9 a.m. – 10 a.m. The Idea of Archives: Abeer Gupta

Abeer will present his research on archives that came out of an IFA grant and explore the traditional and contemporary meaning of ‘archives’ and their possibilities within the classroom.

Abeer Gupta is a filmmaker and anthropologist. An alumnus of the National Institute of Design, India, and Goldsmiths College, University of London, he has directed several short documentary films and has lived in Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir and worked with oral histories, material cultures and visual archives of the western Himalayas.

10 a.m. – 11.30 a.m. Engaging with Museums – Conflictorium: Avni Sethi

‘We at the Conflictorium believe culture is a very basic need. It is something that comes along with Roti, Kapada, Makaan, Shiksha . . . not after. ‘

Avni Sethi is an interdisciplinary practitioner with her primary concern lying between culture, memory, space and the body. She studied Interdisciplinary Design from the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore and pursued a Masters in Performance Studies at Ambedkar University, Delhi. She conceptualized and designed the Conflictorium. Trained in multiple dance idioms, her performances are largely inspired by syncretic faith traditions as well as sites of contested narratives. She is interested in exploring the relationship between intimate audiences and the performing body.

11.30 a.m.  – 11.45 a.m. Coffee

11. 45 a.m. - The Music of Stones: 700 years of Adoption, Assimilation, Absorption and Appropriation : Sohail Hashmi

Sohail Hashmi, born in 1950 in Delhi, graduated with honours in Geography from Delhi University and Masters and M.Phil from JNU, gave up his Ph.D mid way to work full time for 10 years with the CPI (M) between 1981 to 9. From 91 to 2000 worked as Media consultant to the National Literacy Mission and in Electronic media with PTI TV, Home TV, BiTV and, before starting his own documentary making company. From 2004 to 2008  worked as director of Leap years and started his heritage walks and shortly thereafter began writing on Delhi and on Issues connected to culture, language and communalism.

Sohail Hashmi will be speaking on the evolution, across seven centuries and more, of a syncretic tradition of Architecture, and will show through visuals that architecture has no denominational identity and in as much as this is true, the idea of Islamic architecture is a myth.

1 p.m.- 2 p.m.Lunch

2 p.m. – 3.15 p.m. Oral History as Archiving:

Aanchal Malhotra, Anam Zakaria and Tahmima Anam* in conversation

Aanchal Malhotra is an visual artist and oral historian working with memory and material culture. She received a BFA in Traditional Printmaking and Art History from the Ontario College of Art & Design, Toronto and a MFA in Studio Art from Concordia University, Montreal. Much of her work looks at how ordinary belongings found across the subcontinent can act as democratic spaces for cross-border conversations. She is the author of ‘Remnants of a Separation: A History of the Partition through Material Memory’ (HarperCollins 2017) and the co-founder of the Museum of Material Memory, a digital repository of material culture from the Indian subcontinent, tracing family histories and social ethnography through heirlooms, collectibles and objects of antiquity. She currently lives in New Delhi.

Anam Zakaria is an author, development professional, psychotherapist and educationist with a special interest in oral histories, identity politics and conflict narratives. Her first book, Footprints of Partition: Narratives of Four Generations of Pakistanis and Indians, explores the shifting inter-generational perceptions of the 1947 Partition and won the German Peace Prize 2017. Her second book, Between the Great Divide investigates the impact of the Kashmir conflict in Pakistan Administered Kashmir and will be released by HarperCollins in July 2018.  She has an academic background in International Development from McGill University and has previously worked as a director at The Citizens Archive of Pakistan, collecting oral histories from the Partition generation and religious minorities of Pakistan and connecting thousands of school children in India and Pakistan through a cultural exchange program. 

Tahmima Anam is the author of the Bengal Trilogy, which chronicles three generations of the Haque family from the Bangladesh war of independence to the present day. Her debut novel, A Golden Age, was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book. It was followed in 2011 by The Good Muslim. ‘Anwar Gets Everything’, published in 2013 by Granta magazine 123 is an excerpt from the final installment of the trilogy, Shipbreaker, which will be published by Canongate in the UK and HarperCollins in the US.

* Tahmima Anam is yet to confirm.

3. 15 p.m. -4.15 p.m. Uncertain Landscape: Refugee Memories of Kolkata: Nazes Afroz 

Working on a ‘memory project’ Nazes Afroz has inspected and investigated how the physical and mental landscape of the erstwhile refugee colonies of South Kolkata have been transformed in the past two decades. By sourcing old photographs from albums of refugee families and juxtaposing them with his recent corresponding photos taken from the same spots and same perspectives, writer and photographer Nazes Afroz presents the metamorphosis of the shantytown areas, lived by the East Bengal refugees, into a modern urban sprawl in recent times. As memory is the central theme of this project, Nazes has delved into the reminiscences of the locals who built these colonies and collected objects that the refugees carried with them while being displaced. These stories along with the old and recent images construct a journey that the refugees were forced to undertake seven decades ago.

Nazes Afroz has been working as a print and broadcast journalist for more than 37 years. He started working for Aajkaal, a Bengali newspaper in Kolkata in 1981 before moving on to the BBC World Service in London in 1998 where he lived for fifteen years. He held various positions in the BBC including the posts of Executive Editor for South and Central Asia and Editor of International Operations. Since 2013, Nazes is based in Delhi, writing analytical and in-depth essays on Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and West Asia in English and Bangla for various publications.

4. 15 p.m. – 4.30 p.m. Coffee

4.30 p.m. – 6. 15 p.m. Pedagogy through Archives

‘I hear and I forget, I see and I believe, I do and I understand’—Confucius

Community Engagement – Workshop by Sumona Chakravarty based on Chitpur Local project.

The Kashmir Collective – Workshop conducted by Alisha Sett and Nathaniel Brunt based on the lesson plan they are developing from the Kashmir archives.



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