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229. Idioms of Identity: Archival Ephemera and Information Exchange in Colonial India

Sat, March 18, 10:45am to 12:45pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, 2nd Floor, Churchill

Session Submission Type: Organized Panel

Abstract

Described as “forms of empire par excellence”, South Asian pamphlets, periodicals and technical manuals, printed in local presses in vernacular languages and targeted at specific audiences, provide an interesting view of information exchanges and knowledge diffusion in colonial India. Pamphlets, periodicals and pedagogical aids have, until recently, been treated as archival ephemera. Their study is complicated by incomplete collections and physical fragility of the artifacts. The inevitable gaps of such vernacular archives are indicative in themselves of the short-lived nature of consumption of such ephemera. In studying such primary sources, historiography has to take note of and make sense of incomplete narratives and non-elite lives, provided by the past and its material remains.

These archives, however, help the historian to trace interactions between disparate socio-economic and religious groups in South Asia, making possible a macro-historical overview of intellectual networks spanning local intellectuals, printers, translators, journalists and publicists. In this panel, we aim to study in detail pamphlet, periodical and pedagogical literature generated away from metropolitan centers of elite intellectual exchanges, and trace the creations of provincial networks of dissemination of certain kinds of vernacular knowledge conditioned by British colonialism, but not always determined by it. This can be done by using a micro-historical lens to map ordinary lives connected by these local discourses. In doing so, this panel highlights non-traditional archival sources in South Asia and the importance of such sources in analyzing the formation of communitarian identity-based politics at the non-central, non-elite levels of local and vernacular ecumenes.

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