Pathways in History: Exploring Connections across Time and Space
Scholars are increasingly recognising the importance of connectedness in everyday lives, stories, events and narratives. Recent research on South Asia has explored these pathways as active in shaping ideas, institutions and objects, rather than as defined solely by the things they connect. In step with these trends, the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, looks forward to discuss Pathways in History: Exploring Connections across Time and Space in its 2014 Young Scholars' Conference.
We intend to bring together the multiple pathways through which connections are formed and practised, including, but not limited to: assimilation, acculturation, appropriation, contestation, negotiation, and conflict. We envisage peoples, ideas, and things as embedded in a matrix of connections, and see the pathways which link them to one another as crucial in defining, shaping and ordering them. By foregrounding the pathways and exploring how connections are made through them, we hope to break away from the binaries that often limit historical agency. Seeing these pathways as active in shaping ideas, institutions, and objects; rather than seeing them as determined solely by the things they connect, can open up exciting new ways of doing history.
Emphasising the importance of pathways and connectedness reaffirms the premise that the physical does not exist in isolation from the cognitive ways in which entities represent themselves and interact with each other. It rejects any notion of the ‘naturalness’ of entities, arguing instead for their constitution through the ways in which they relate to each other.
Nor do we believe the pathways themselves to be fixed in time, space, or meaning, or not implicated by power relationships. Through creative ways, paths can be both subversive and cooptive of borders and barriers – indeed, their ubiquity points to the need of exploring the interplay between power and resistances that shapes and reshapes the forms of pathways and connections.
In this conference, we intend to explore the constitution and reconstitution of the pathways through which connections are formed; the vehicles that traverse these pathways, such as memories, traditions, and texts; and the transformation these pathways and connections bring about in peoples, population groups, ideas, identities, institutions, and the meanings of things. We especially welcome interventions from other social science disciplines in understanding how we may explore anew these terrains.
We call for papers that explore these broad ideas across the following sub-themes:
I. Networks, Flows and Circuits
It is in the process of circulation that objects, ideas and peoples draw upon multiple resources that give them identities, values, and affiliations. The pathways they move through are crucial to the ways in which they are defined and ordered.
The flow of knowledges shaping colonies and metropolises, mediated through learned societies like the Asiatic Society; the movement of luxury goods through Asian entrepôts and European cities, shaping tastes and colonial expansion; or the movement of peoples across regions and empires shaping notions of home and abroad or of the mainland and the periphery – these are some of the ways scholars have explored these themes. We invite papers that explore at the centrality
of pathways and circulation through instances as diverse as flows of capital, trans-regional migration patterns, international organisations, tastes, and ideas.
II. Creative Pasts: Memories, Traditions and Texts
Memories, traditions and texts are some of the most active vectors that facilitate a continual engagement between the past and the present, and often, the future. We intend to look at how events, things and experiences accrue layers of meanings as they journey through times and spaces; and how this layering shapes and reshapes attitudes, anxieties and aspirations. These could be secular as well as religious, but could also straddle the two, or defy categorisations.
How do the hadith, the Ramayana traditions, festivals, memoirs, chronologies, or letters, for instance, illustrate the ways by which pasts are represented? What is it that makes possible (or impossible) certain pathways through which performing arts, caste narratives or political ideologies, engage with older texts and practices, as they seek to harness the past and the present to achieve a particular future? What are the accretions and deletions to meaning that occur as they circulate and pass from one audience to another? For this subtheme, we invite papers that explore how the multi-layered nature of memories, traditions and texts allows us to understand the various ways by which the past presences itself with authority to the contemporary.
III. Understanding Religious, Cultural and Legal Identities
Identity formation is a continuous process of constitution and fragmentation through the interplay of diverse ideas, ideologies and institutions. Being embedded in a matrix of connections, this shaping and reshaping draws upon a range of interactions and negotiations. We believe it is futile
to pursue a segregationist approach and feel it necessary to explore the ways in which connectedness provides the driving force for identities to present and represent themselves.
For instance, Dalit identities can be viewed as constituted in the interstices within religion, law and culture, drawing upon discourses from all three fields. Such an approach promises to reveal a more interactive history of identity – local, regional, national, dalit, gender – that cuts across polar paradigms of power-resistance or elite-subaltern. We call for papers that highlight how identities are constituted through the ways in which they seek to connect with the world outside them
IV. Pathways across Divides: Boundaries in Flux
Despite their ostensible purpose to demarcate and divide, the constant subversion of boundaries suggests that these dividing lines themselves can give rise to pathways and connections between things on either side. This is true not only of political entities like states, but also of disciplines, identities, and geographies, to cite a few examples. For instance, contending ideas speak to each other and build systems of knowledge across the conceptual frontiers they build to define themselves. Frontier areas – both across states and across ecological zones – serve as regions where entities on either side can look to for negotiations within and between. Boundaries are rendered fluid as population groups, capital, and labour move across them. Yet these movements happen precisely because the invisible line creates conditions on one side that do not exist on the other.
We are looking for papers that track the way pathways cross boundaries and alter landscapes, by looking at themes such as capital and labour movements across frontiers, exchanges of ideas between disciplines, travel literature, and the making of contact zones in frontier regions. Papers could also explore how the presence of multiple boundaries – even those that do not coincide – create linkages: as in the case of fisher folk who cross international waters by following a resource-based division of the seas, or the 'illegal' pathways created through practices such as smuggling, undocumented migration, and the policing of borders.
Those who wish to participate should send in 800-1000-word abstracts of their papers by 15 December 2013. Shortlisted participants selected after the review process will be notified by 10 December 2013. The full draft of the paper (5000-8000 words) should reach the organising committee by 15 January 2013.
At the conference each participant will have 20 minutes to present her/his paper. The discussion for each session will be led by a discussant.
Participants will be provided accommodation for five nights (4 – 8 February, 2014), as well as three-tier AC train fare. We are not in a position to pay airfare for international participants.
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