Knowledge Production and European Expansion in Modern South and South East Asia

AHA Session 212
Forum on European Expansion and Global Interaction 3
Society for Advancing the History of South Asia 10
Saturday, January 5, 2013: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Balcony K (New Orleans Marriott)
Martha Chaiklin, University of Pittsburgh
The Audience

Session Abstract

In continuation of AHA’s larger theme, Lives, Places, Stories, FEEGI (The Forum on European Expansion and Global Interaction) proposes a panel around the shifting contours and forms of knowledge in the context of European imperialism in modern South and South East Asia. Recognizing the profound impact of global exchange, interaction, modeling and appropriation on colonial knowledge systems, these papers explore the mutually constitutive nature of this production. By pressuring histories that assume the uni-directional flow of intellectual frameworks and epistemic schema from European metropolitan centers to South and South East Asia’s colonial peripheries these papers reveal the deliberate cooptation of subaltern or indigenous knowledge by European epistemologies. The self-fashioning of “native-scholars” as embodied repositories of knowledge as a response to the hegemony of colonial scholarship and the agency of the colonized in bureaucratic and administrative structures of knowledge are additional themes that will be discussed here. The panel will also pay attention to the recalibration of European systems of governmentality through indigenous belief systems and praxis.

The four papers in this panel will offer a range of historical perspectives on the epistemological nature of Dutch and British imperial expansion. From the creation of English dictionaries dedicated to the translation of Indian terms of revenue collection into English, to the construction of a colonial sociology crafted by both Sri Lankans as well as Dutch and English colonizers, these papers bring attention to the deeply contested and contingent nature of imperial knowledge. Papers that explore colonial efforts to subsume long-standing understandings of the natural world or indigenous notions of historical continuity into a scientific discourse of liberalism illustrate that European knowledge was itself produced within and via the colonial encounter. This panel, thus, aims to generate a productive critique of the multivalent and polyphonous histories of imperial knowledge in nineteenth-century South and South East Asia.

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