The Postcolonized Historian and the Global South: Reflections on South Asia and Latin America

AHA Session 57
Conference on Latin American History 8
Saturday, January 4, 2020: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
New York Ballroom East (Sheraton New York, Third Floor)
Camilla D. Townsend, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
The End of Hindustan
Manan Ahmed, Columbia University
Chasing India in Mexico City
Taymiya R. Zaman, University of San Francisco
What Mexico Can Teach Us about Hinduism
Ananya Chakravarti, Georgetown University

Session Abstract

To travel from Mexico City to Delhi, one must transit through Europe; non-stop flights that connect the cities of Latin America, Africa, and South Asia are rare, even though these cities share geographical proximity. As historians of and from the global south, our epistemological trajectories, like the act of physical travel, usually transit through Europe. We work as historians in an academic eco-system where our credentials, expertise, and methods for doing history give primacy to the thought, critique, and normativity organized in Europe or the United States. If the modes and concerns of history-writing as a social science remain beyond reproach, what then is global about the vaunted “global turn” for history? This panel will begin with an understanding of the European colonial episteme that formed and moderated the flow of knowledge on the global south. This episteme archived the ‘south’ in libraries, museums, and universities of the global north. It became the only universal knowledge, the only modality which could allow for speech across geographies. What possibilities have been lost as a result of this episteme? What names for places, textures of being, and tastes for genres have been made extinct? How might we write about the frisson sensed by the post-colonized historian when landing in another city of the global south and registering its similarity on the body, or about a textile pattern or the smell of a curry that links an indigenous past in one part of the global south to another? In entertaining such notions of linking places and pasts, how far can a post-colonized historian venture before being suspected of not doing history at all?

Chaired by Camilla Townsend, this panel brings together a diverse group of scholars who are interested in practices and rituals of thinking historically which cut across the global south and can inform one another. Manan Ahmed will investigate how the conceptual category of “Hindustan” in British colonial writings rested upon the erasure of indigenous ways of knowing the land. Using a case study from early modern Goa, Ananya Chakravarti will show how Mexican historical anthropology can pave the way for a new conceptualization of Hinduism. Rochelle Pinto will examine how Latin American approaches to the novel, which do not rely on binary oppositions between colonizer and colonized, can inform richer understandings of the colonial novel in India. Relying on modern and pre-modern encounters between the Muslim world and the Americas, Taymiya Zaman will analyze how Mexico and India were both conquered and unconquerable and how historical understanding is itself premised on a form of conquest we might wish to relinquish. Rather than provincializing an imagined Europe, this panel will listen to the speech of history in languages once deemed unscientific, feminine, chaotic, or without pasts.

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