Experimental Early Modernity, Empire, and Cultural Difference: Insights from Sri Lanka

AHA Session 159
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room 204 (Hynes Convention Center)
Martha Chaiklin, University of Pittsburgh

Session Abstract

One of our long-range aims is to find ways to incorporate into Sri Lanka’s history its long-standing role in transregional networks, but without losing sight of what has been distinctive in the island’s experience.  Linked to this aim is another, namely to find ways of writing histories of Sri Lanka that will invite historians of Asia and other world regions to consider the value of attention to Sri Lanka in discussions about large-scale historical processes.  The immediate goal of this particular roundtable is to consider ways in which the articulation of cultural difference in Sri Lanka between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries needs to be understood in connection to broader debates on empire and early modernity and how what is discerned, in turn, enhances these broader debates.  At various points during this period the Portuguese, Dutch and British all exerted considerable power over the island, and the management of cultural difference was an important issue not only for them but also for the island-based polities with which they interacted.  Each of the five roundtable participants will make ten-minute arguments placing Sri Lankan evidence within the context of scholarship from other areas, both through the use of systematic comparison and through a consideration of its actual historical connections with the outside world.  Each presentation will also conclude with a question for the audience, designed to promote discussion of how Sri Lankan evidence might prompt discussions and insights for historians working on other areas.  In order to provide the audience with sufficient background to begin a productive discussion, the participants will provide a position paper for the AHA website.  This document will outline the goals of the roundtable in more detail, and explain its relationship with a broader project on Sri Lankan historiography that has been initiated by the American Institute for Sri Lankan Studies.  Previous meetings of this collaborative project have taken place in London (Jan. 2009), Colombo (Sept. 2009), Madison (Oct. 2009), and Colombo (Aug. 2010).

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