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Imperial Infection: An Ecological History of the Third Plague Pandemic in Bombay, India, 1880-1920

TAPSA: Emily Webster, Department of History, University of Chicago

The third plague pandemic looms large in the historiography of colonial India. This attention is warranted, given the disproportionate effects of the pandemic: out of a total of 14 million deaths from plague worldwide during this time, a suspected 12 million occurred in India - more than its region of origin - beginning with the first epidemic in Bombay in 1896. While historians have analyzed the social, political, and intellectual implications of the plague epidemic in Bombay city and in India more broadly, the complexity of plague and its vectors as an epidemiological and ecological force have yet to be explored. This talk will introduce preliminary thoughts on the historical ecology of plague in Bombay, India, from its arrival in 1896 through its eventual decline in the late 1920s. It will examine the unique features of Bombay that may have allowed for the propagation of the disease – namely, mass migration into the city to support the burgeoning cotton industry; overcrowding and unsanitary conditions; social geography; and the many urban improvement projects that may have influenced vector migration and behavior. Drawing on traditional historical data and emerging practices in science and technology studies, this talk will examine the interaction of human and nonhuman actors that allowed Yersinia pestis to take hold in Bombay.

Dates: 
Thursday, January 17, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103 (1130 East 59th Street)

Surā in her Cups: Writing a History of Alcohol and Drugs in Pre-modern South Asia

South Asia Seminar: James McHugh, University of Southern California, Dornsife

James McHugh discusses his book project on the history of alcohol in South Asia from the Vedas through the early second millennium CE and beyond. He will give some examples of the ways intoxicating substances are described and theorized in texts, noting the challenges of these sources. Given the immensity of this topic, what sorts of things is it possible to say about alcohol and drugs in the region when working mainly with textual sources, primarily ones in Sanskrit?

Dates: 
Thursday, January 24, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

Adivasi Christians and Contextual Theology

TAPSA: Elsa Marty, Department of Theology, University of Chicago

Christians in the tribal state of Jharkhand are predominantly Adivasi (indigenous). In recent years, Christians have been returning to their Adivasi cultural roots and are increasingly reflecting on what it means to be simultaneously Christian and Adivasi. Drawing upon ethnographic work with two Lutheran denominations in Jharkhand, this paper explores the churches’ different approaches to articulating and promoting an Adivasi Christian identity and discusses the implications of their divergent approaches for contextual theology more broadly.

Dates: 
Thursday, January 31, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103 (1130 East 59th Street)

Manifest Anxiety: Managing Religious Conversion in Early 20th Century British Malaya

TAPSA Talk: Hanisah Binte Abdullah Saini, Department of Sociology, University of Chicago

In the early decades of the 20th century, the expanding colonial administration in British Malaya provided attentive reports on cases of conversion into Islam. This was despite a longstanding policy against intruding into matters of religion and customs, which were left entirely to indigenous elites. This paper asks: Why was the colonial administration concerned about conversions into Islam, and how did this reflect the state's evolving policy on religion and customs more generally? Examining administrative memos, newspaper reports, and personal correspondences, this paper situates the colonial state’s anxiety with religious conversion against compounding stresses faced by a rapidly expanding administration.

Dates: 
Thursday, February 7, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103 (1130 East 59th Street)

On Literary Activism, or a Philosophy of Creativity

South Asia Seminar: Amit Chaudhuri, Writer, Professor of Contemporary Literature at the University of East Anglia

In the last four years, a series of symposiums on "literary activism" took place in Calcutta, Delhi, and Oxford, attempting to open up a fringe space to reconsider creativity in a way that would counter both the market and academic professionalisation. The word "activism" was used semi-ironically, given that part of these symposiums' brief was to enquire into whether creative work comprises an "action" as we ordinarily understand the term. If it doesn't, what kind of "activism" did one mean? This talk will discuss the repercussions of the symposiums so far, what direction they might take in the future, and whether it's possible to rethink the history of creativity and of critique.

Dates: 
Thursday, February 14, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

Embodied Empiricism and the Respectability of Labour at the Madrasa Tibbiya Delhi

TAPSA: Sabrina Datoo, Department of History, University of Chicago

This paper elucidates how the mores of the north Indian service-gentry were implicated in the reformation of Avicennian medicine in colonial India. The paper focuses on a single site, the Madrasa Tibbiya of Delhi, a medical school founded in 1889 by a renowned lineage of Avicennian practitioners (hakims). This essay explores how medical education at the Madrasa proceeded by managing respectability (sharafat) as an aesthetic and ethical sensibility in order to dignify the manual labors required by scientific empiricism.

Dates: 
Thursday, March 14, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103 (1130 East 59th Street)

Reason and the Image: On Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khilari (The Chess Players)

South Asia Seminar: Keya Ganguly, College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota

This talk focuses on Satyajit Ray’s cinematic treatment of an episode from India’s late colonial history in Shatranj Ke Khilari (“The Chess Players,” 1977). I suggest that through his portrait of the betrayal of reason under the pretext of law, Ray makes an appeal on behalf of the visual image as a critique of reason (rather than its lure).

Dates: 
Thursday, March 21, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

The Study of Southern Asia at the University of Chicago

The University of Chicago is one of the leading centers for the study of Southern Asia. Countries in which we have scholarly expertise include in South Asia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka; and in Southeast Asia, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Tibet (as an autonomous region), and Vietnam.

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