Dissertation monograph – The past is a foreign country: the politics of colonial re-territorialization in 20th century India

The twentieth century is the age of democratic revolutions and political ruptures with the past. The political map of the world changed radically since the 1940s as epochal transformations swept through the world. Colonial holdings shrunk, old sovereignties and empires were erased, and new nation states were created. The remaking of territorial maps had significant implications for emergent nation states- in writing their pasts and in creating the basis for a shared future. In the 20th century, several sovereignties also disappeared from the world map and were integrated into  new nation states, others were carved out of old territories to form new nations. As states were erased from maps and absorbed into new nation states, their bureaucratic and socio-political landscape were profoundly transformed, as were their relationships to their own histories.

In this age of popular foundings, what happened to places that disappeared from maps? When les lieux de memoire disappear, are memories and political subjectivities associated with them also erased? Or do they continue to shape the forms and dispositions of present day politics? In the age of empire, the relationships of places and people to both precolonial pasts and postcolonial presents mutated as sovereign territories were consolidated with colonial legacies. While several African states have negotiated these boundary formations since the Scramble for Africa, in South Asia these politics are more proximal to the Second World War. Both in African and South Asian contexts, however, the foundation of new territories, such as “India” or “Ethiopia” can be contextualized through traumatic negotiations in the aftermath of the colony, lending the problematic of disappeared states its complexity.

This book project approaches these questions from the vantage point of South Asia, with a sensitivity to the larger questions on history (our relationships to the past) in the aftermath of traumatic re-territorialization, the constitution and historicity of political subjectivity, and the fragilities of reconciliation.