Sumathi Ramaswamy, 'A Historian among the Goddesses of Modern India'
31 May 16:00
Oxford South Asian Intellectual History Seminar
Venue: Online - Zoom
Speaker(s): Sumathi Ramaswamy (Duke University)
Chair: Zobia Haq
In this talk, I will offer some reflections on what it has meant for me as a professional academic trained in the putative secular discipline of history to write over the past couple decades about a series of modern goddesses of modern India who have succeeded in capturing my imagination, in disturbing the terms of my engagement with official documentary archives, in troubling the text-saturated categories of my analysis, and in redirecting my work along new paths permeated by the power of the image. As I focus upon the work of these goddesses in the political, cultural, and devotional landscapes of modern India, I also consider the ethical dilemma of engaging with such an “enchanted” figure from the perspective of the “disenchanted” and secular discipline of History. I offer visual studies with its focus on the “enchanted” image as a way out of this ethical impasse.
Sumathi Ramaswamy is James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of History and International Comparative Studies, Chair of the Department of History at Duke University, and President, American Institute of Indian Studies. She has published extensively on language politics, gender studies, spatial studies and the history of cartography, visual studies and the modern history of art, and more recently, on the history of philanthropy. As part of a research interest on the cultures of learning in colonial and postcolonial India, Ramaswamy published a monograph titled Terrestrial Lessons: The Conquest of the World as Globe (University of Chicago Press, 2017), which explores the debates in colonial India about the shape and disposition of the earth in the universe and examines the course of science education conducted around the terrestrial globe as a pedagogic object as it enters Indian schools. Her other recent publications include The Goddess and the Nation: Mapping Mother India (Duke University Press, 2010) and a pictorial monograph entitled Husain's Raj: Visions of Empire and Nation (The Marg Foundation, 2016); and two edited volumes, Barefoot Across the Nation: Maqbool Fida Husain and the Idea of India (Routledge, 2010), and Empires of Vision (co-edited with Martin Jay, Duke University Press, 2014). Upon receipt of the prestigious Anneliese Maier Research Award by the Humboldt Foundation, Ramaswamy established a major project on Gandhi and visual culture. In the sphere of public visual humanities, she published two works in 2020: Gandhi in the Gallery: The Art of Disobedience (Roli Books, 2020), and a digital project titled ‘B is for Bapu: Gandhi in the Art of the Child in Modern India’, hosted by Duke University. In the wider field of digital humanities, she is also the co-founder of ‘Tasveerghar: A Digital Network of South Asian Popular Visual Culture’ and author-curator of ‘Going Global in Mughal India’. Her current project is on educational philanthropy in British India.