Political Imaginaries at the End of Empire

AHA Session 48
Society for Advancing the History of South Asia 1
Thursday, January 4, 2018: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Virginia Suite C (Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level)
Alexander Semyonov, National Research University Higher School of Economics
Rama Mantena, University of Illinois at Chicago
Sergey Glebov, Amherst College and Smith College
Manu Goswami, New York University
Marina Mogilner, University of Illinois at Chicago
Bhavani Raman, University of Toronto Scarborough

Session Abstract

With the coming of the centennial of the Bolshevik revolution (1917) and the centennial of the armistice (1918), this Roundtable on the “Political Imaginaries at the End of Empire” proposes to examine the nation-state form as it emerged from political conditions in the early decades of the twentieth century—World War I and the formation of the League of Nations. Furthermore, we as historians of the Imperial Russia/Soviet Union and Colonial India, aim to not only examine the primacy of the nation-state in the aftermath of Empire but also interrogate the impact of civil liberties unions (across Western Europe) and other international leagues/associations devoted to freedom from imperial domination. It is our contention that political discussion was far more expansive and open-ended than the passionate quest for a nation-state that we know all too well from narratives of successful anti-colonial nationalist movements in British India, French Indochina, Ghana, and Algeria—albeit not all nationalist struggles were a clean break from their imperial powers—there were indeed wars and violent confrontations with imperial powers. Beyond these “heroic” struggles against European empires, there were more complex political imaginaries circulating that considered alternatives entailing a wider set of political goals than what the establishment of the nation-state could accomplish. What were these political imaginaries from proposals of federations to supranational states? What were the political ideologies framing/defining federations and supranational states? Were these supranational states simply economic arrangements for the continuity of imperial forms? At this historical juncture, nation states offered radical alternatives to imperial schemes. The refashioning of a more just state structure that placed at the top the priority of the eradication of inequalities whether based on gender, class, caste or race during colonial periods of rule. Did the political imaginaries of federation, unions and other supranational forms contain such radical potential? Through specific case studies from the Soviet Union to Colonial India, the discussants will explore these themes in their regional and wider global conversations on political futures.
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