Past Events

Everyday Evasions: Space and Strategy in Sex Markets in Colonial India

Lecture by Zoya Sameen, doctoral student of History at University of Chicago, hosted by The Nicholson Center for British Studies and The Newberry Library’s British History Seminar

The historiography of prostitution in colonial India has often sidelined the routine life of sexual commerce in favor of approaching it as a site of wider transformations having to do with race, governance, and scientific discourse. This paper shifts attention toward historicizing prostitution as a set of practices and activities, and aims to present an ‘everyday’ history of prostitution in colonial India from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century (c. 1860-1911). Situated against the historical context of prostitution regulation in empire, this paper examines how various participants in sex markets (soldiers, civilian men, and prostitutes) strategized their approaches to sex-exchanges in order to evade official surveillance, police action, and compulsory registration. This paper further considers how local geographies, transport technologies, and environmental conditions altered configurations of prostitution across Indian towns and cities. Drawing on colonial records, missionary collections, and vernacular newspaper reports, this paper aims to present a history of prostitution in colonial India not as a concept or in terms of a discourse, but as an everyday practice that traces the contest between what is prescribed and what is practiced in relation to mobility, negotiation, and tactics of resistance.

Newberry Scholarly Seminars papers are pre-circulated. For a copy of the paper, email Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.

Friday, February 28, 2020 - 3:00pm
Towners Fellows' Lounge, The Newberry Library, 60 West Walton Street

TAPSA: Letter writing is the mingling of souls not the drawing near of dust: Scholarly epistolography as companionship in eighteenth-century North India

Daniel Morgan, PhD Candidate in SALC, University of Chicago

Scholars of Persianate intellectual practices in early-modern South Asia generally argue that authoritative knowledge was “located primarily in persons not books” and that texts were thus transmitted in the context of oral recitals. Such transmission required the student to engage in companionship (ṣuḥbat) with a teacher to ensure correct comprehension of texts, as well as for the cultivation of suitable ethical comportment (ādāb). What such accounts disregard, however, is that letters – between scholars of equal standing, or between teachers and students – were themselves often considered to be a form of “companionship” (iṣṭiḥāb, dūstī) and could serve, therefore, as a medium for the remote transmission of authoritative knowledge and the cultivation of right action. Indeed, some letter writers refer to the superiority of the letter over physical companionship because it allowed for a meeting of souls without the intrusion of the material body. This paper examines eighteenth-century letter-writing manuals, as well as Persian and Arabic letter collections by scholars of North India, to consider the ways in which epistolary communications served, in Deena Goodman’s memorable phrase, as “an absence made present”. The paper considers both the self-statement of eighteenth-century letter writers as well as their practices (the request and receipt of remote “authorisations” for certain textual genres, the circulation of unfinished manuscripts, and collaboration on long-distance book projects). The paper also considers the transmission of huṅdīs (financial promissory notes) within these networks, to think about how financial and scholarly “credit” was a key feature in the persistence of remote exchanges. The paper thus aims to nuance our understanding of the modalities of scholarly companionship in eighteenth century North India and thus to contribute to wider discussions of the role of epistolography and companionship in early-modern Persianate societies.

Thursday, February 27, 2020 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

‘Their Lordships are again at great disadvantage in not knowing Sanskrit’: the Privy Council, Mīmāṃsā, and Anantakrishna Shastri

The colonial desire to continue while reforming the pre-existing practices of civil law in British India, so as to govern according to “native” legal customs, was the original driver of the creation of modern Indology. As the British legal and scholarly establishment began to codify versions in English of “Hindu law,” they incorporated various śāstras.

As a result, experts of Southern Asian texts were increasingly drawn into the imperial world created by British legal and fiduciary regimes. Their interactions with the courts can reveal something of the destiny of śāstric practice when adapted into modern settings. In this talk, Chris Minkowski will consider one example: the engagement by the formidable śāstrin Anantakrishna Shastri, with a recommendation concerning Hindu adoption made by the Privy Council to the Queen in 1899.

This event is sponsored by the Śāstram Project at the Neubauer Collegium.

Friday, February 21, 2020 - 5:00pm
Neubauer Collegium

Transnational Approaches to Modern Europe Workshop at the University of Chicago

Please join the Transnational Approaches to Modern Europe Workshop, in conjunction with the Empires and Atlantics Forum and the Nicholson Center for British Studies next Friday, February 21 at 4:30 PM as we welcome Prof. Seth Koven, G.E. Lessing Distinguished Professor of History and Poetics, Rutgers University. Prof. Koven will be presenting a chapter of his current book project, titled: "Educating Conscience in Mid-Nineteenth Century British India." Dr. Zachary Leonard, recent graduate of the Department of History and current Teaching Fellow in the Social Sciences, will be providing comment. Prof. Koven's chapter is available on the TAMEW Canvas site, as well as on our website,, under the heading "Current Paper". Please contact either or for the password.

Friday, February 21, 2020 - 4:30pm
Rosenwald Hall 405

Maratha Mandir: Cartography of a Neighborhood Theater

The Mass Culture Workshop is pleased to welcome Jenisha Borah, PhD Student, Cinema and Media Studies, University of Chicago. Lunch will be served. For more information, please email either Sophie ( or Tanya (

Friday, February 21, 2020 - 11:00am
Cobb 311

Narratives of Siege: Understanding Buddhist/Muslim Conflicts in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand

Public lecture by John Holt, Visiting Professor of Buddhism.

Why have Buddhist and Muslim communities in these three countries, after sharing centuries of largely amicable relations, found themselves recently enmeshed in conditions of inter-communal tension, tensions that have sporadically erupted into armed conflict, in some cases including large-scale state-supported violence against minority Muslim communities? There many socio-economic, political and religious factors that have exacerbated inter-communal relations in the recent past. Notwithstanding a consideration of these various compelling factors, how each of the six respective communities in these three countries understands their contemporary predicaments through narratives of siege is the focus of this lecture.

Professor Holt is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor Emeritus of the Humanities in Religion and Asian Studies at Bowdoin College, where he has taught since 1978. His teaching focuses Asian religious traditions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism, and theoretical approaches to the study of religion. In 1982, he organized and founded the Inter-collegiate Sri Lanka Education (ISLE) Program for a consortium of private liberal arts colleges, and in 1986 he became the first chair of Bowdoin’s Asian Studies Program. Holt spent three separate terms as the Visiting Professor of History and Comparative Religion at Sri Lanka’s University of Peradeniya. He was awarded a Doctor of Letters from the same institution for his contributions to Sri Lankan and Buddhist studies. He was selected as the Alumnus of the Year by the University of Chicago Divinity School in 2007, and has received numerous research awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2014.

His publications include Discipline: the Canonical Buddhism of the Vinayapitaka (Dehli: Motilal Banarsidass, 1981), A Guide to the Buddhist Religion (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1981), Buddha in the Crown (NY: Oxford U. Press, 1991), for which he was awarded an American Academic Book Award for Excellence in 1992; and The Buddhist Visnu (NY: Columbia University Press, 2005), a groundbreaking study analyzing the assimilation and transformation of the Hindu cult of Visnu by the Sinhala Buddhists of Sri Lanka.

Monday, February 17, 2020 - 4:30pm
Swift Common Room

TAPSA: Bilvamaṅgala in Bengal: Biographical Thought, Inexpressibility, and Other Mysteries

Ishan Chakrabarti, PhD Candidate in SALC, University of Chicago

In 1510 Caitanya made a pilgrimage to South India, where he was captivated by the Kṛṣṇakarṇāmṛta (Ambrosia for Kṛṣṇa’s Ears), an anthology of Sanskrit verses about Kṛṣṇa written by the fourteenth-century poet Līlāśuka Bilvamaṅgala. Around the end of the sixteenth century, Caitanya’s followers produced two commentaries on this text. Bilvamaṅgala struggled with the ultimate inexpressibility of the divine through ordinary poetic language. He wound up putting Sanskrit poetics in crisis while coming up with ways to express what cannot be said. Caitanya’s early followers reflect on Bilvamaṅgala’s aporetic poetics and its conditions of possibility and impossibility through a turn to biographical criticism, elucidating the Kṛṣṇakarṇāmṛta through the often-mysterious implied life-experiences of the author. This paper looks at Bilvamaṅgala’s aporetic poetics and the structure of early Gauḍīya biographical thought as it reckons with Bilvamaṅgala reckoning with the aporia of talking about Kṛṣṇa.

Thursday, February 13, 2020 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

How Patrons Select Brokers: Efficacy and Loyalty in Indian Cities

Tariq Thachil, Associate Professor, Vanderbilt University. This lecture is hosted by the Department of Political Science and COSAS.

Scholars of urban politics in India have yet to systematically understand how party leaders select the rank-and-file ‘brokers’, ‘fixers’, or intermediaries that connect them to their local constituencies. We study how these choices are made through in-depth fieldwork in two mid-sized Indian cities: Jaipur and Bhopal. We focus on how local party leaders incorporate brokers who connect them to vote-rich slum settlements. We draw on qualitative fieldwork to argue that local leaders must balance two key concerns: a broker’s efficacy among slum residents and their loyalty to party and the leader. We then test the relative importance of these concerns through a survey-based choice experiment conducted with 343 ward-level political leaders. We verify our findings with unique data on the actual promotion patterns for 629 slum leaders in Jaipur and Bhopal.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - 12:00pm
Foster 107

Regimes of Knowledge in the Early Indic World, Part of the 2019-2020 Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, Śāstram: Form, Power, and Translation in Indic Scholasticism

Venue: Franke Institute for the Humanities, Room S-102, Regenstein Library, open to all members of the University community

The domain of śāstra – disciplined, textualized systematic thought, composed in Sanskrit and other languages – forms premodern southern Asia’s greatest archive for the history of knowledge. The intellectual sophistication of these many domains and their intertextual complexity present formidable challenges to interpretation, often to the expense of framing wider questions about what could be termed śāstra’s micro- and macro-sociologies. In this two day symposium, leading scholars will present attempts to rectify this imbalance, seeking to offer preliminary theories and case studies of its worldly existence from Kashmir to Java, and from antiquity into the medieval period. Schedule:

Friday, February 7th:

1:30: Welcome, Opening Remarks, and Introduction 2:00-2:45 Isabelle Ratié (Paris-III) "A śāstra for whom? On the intended readership of the Pratyabhijñā treatise" 2:45-3:00 Response (Gary Tubb, SALC, UChicago) 3:00-3:30 Discussion 3:30-4:00 Break 4:00-4:45 Whitney Cox (SALC, UChicago) “Yāmuna’s insurgent Brahmanism” 4:45-5:00 Response (Anand Venkatkrishnan, Divinity, UChicago) 5:00-5:30 Discussion 5:30-6:30 Reception

Saturday, February 8th:

12:15 Welcome 12:30-1:15 Tom Hunter (UBC/Neubauer), “When Śāstram Met Literature: the Tale of Tantri in the Language Order of Premodern Java” 1:15-1:30 Response (Andrew Ollett, SALC UChicago) 1:30-2:00 Discussion 2:00-2:30 Break 2:30-3:15 Mark McClish (Northwestern), "Nīti as Śāstra: Text, Tradition, and Authority in Ancient Statecraft" 3:15-3:30 Response (Wendy Doniger, SALC/Divinity emerita, UChicago) 3:30-4:00 Discussion 4:00-4:15 Wrap-up 4:15-5:30 Reception

Friday, February 7, 2020 - 1:30pm to Saturday, February 8, 2020 - 5:30pm
Room S-102, Franke Institute for the Humanities, Regenstein Library

South Asia Seminar: Plotting Malaiyaham: Life and Work among Northern Hill Country Tamils in Postwar Sri Lanka

Mythri Jegathesan, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Santa Clara University

This talk is based on exploratory research conducted in two districts in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province since July 2018 and is in conversation with ethnographic fieldwork conducted over eleven years in Sri Lanka’s South-Central tea plantation sector. Nearly eleven years after the end of Sri Lanka’s twenty-six year long civil war in May 2009, Northern Hill Country Tamils—who have a shared heritage with Hill Country Tamils on the plantations but live in Northern Province—have been resettled on plots of land to which they have no deeds postwar. Intergenerational relations of labor, caste, kinship, and exchange drive practices of home-building among Tamils in the North and East, but the Government of Sri Lanka and international development organizations measure and evaluate land use and attachments with different scales of investment, productivity, and replaceability. In this postwar, militarized development context, land attachment for Northern Hill Country Tamils involves labor and social relations that reach well beyond the temporalities and mechanisms of recognition put forth by transitional justice and economic development. Katherine McKittrick writes: "What is at stake in linking a plantation past to the present? What comes of positioning the plantation as a threshold to thinking through long-standing and contemporary practices of racial violence?" (2013:4). Thinking about how plantation scholars have envisioned interdisciplinary and transregional ways to track and investigate the afterlives of the plantation, I argue that the plantation plots of Northern Hill Country Tamils are puncturing and reinscribing the more dominant narratives of postwar resettlement, reconciliation, and transitional justice in postwar Sri Lanka.

Thursday, February 6, 2020 - 5:00pm
Foster 103