Stephen McQuillan: TCD SPECTRESS Fellow in Delhi

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I was seconded to the Centre for Historical Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi for three months between September and December 2015. My purpose for going to New Delhi were primarily to avail of the public and private papers based in the National Archives of India, Nehru Memorial Museum Library (popularly known as ‘Teen Murti’) as well as the PC Joshi archives in JNU all of which contained a diverse array of archival material of great benefit to my research. My research is centred on cross-cultural affiliations and transnational subversive connections between Irish and Indian revolutionaries in the early twentieth century period.

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Living in New Delhi was both a strange and enriching experience. I soon realised that for the purposes of self-preservation it is simply easier to surrender to the invisible logic of chaos and madness which characterises the hustle and bustle of daily life in India. Crossing the road is a typical example. The traffic in Delhi is like a self-balancing eco-system which one must both respect and fear. The archives were a frustrating exercise in bureaucratic red tape. Getting an overnight train is an experience I will never forget. But somehow everything manages to work. Often it is better to resign and just let it happen. A 7.5 magnitude earthquake in Afghanistan in late October recorded tremors and witnessed buildings shake in Delhi which resulted in an electricity outage in the archives. However, since black outs were not an unusual occurrence it was rather amusing when the PhD students and researchers continued to work away for a while in the darkness typing up notes diligently until the head archivist entered and informed us we must evacuate the building immediately.

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Studying at JNU was a really interesting experience. Home to a beautiful lush campus on the outskirts of Delhi I was fortunate to observe a profoundly politically active and academically engaging student populous. Professor Aditya Mukherjee’s postgraduate research group were very welcoming and helpful. It was not long after arriving that I became invited to numerous discussions, seminars and conferences. One of the highlights of my time in India was being given the opportunity to present my research at one of the postgraduate meetings in the Centre for Historical Studies. This for me encapsulated the advantages and benefits from participating in the SPECTRESS secondment as I was able to present my work to an audience that otherwise would not have been possible and receive feedback accordingly.

 

 

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Jan Sowa: JU SPECTRESS Fellow in Sao Paulo

I spent 4 months at the Faculty of Philosophy, Languages and Literature, and Human Sciences (FFLCH) of the University of Sao Paulo in the frame of SPECTRESS program in 2015 and 2016. I received a very warm welcome from my hosts. Laura Izarra and Eda Nagayama were particularly helpful in arranging my stay and organizing my research and I’d like to thank them a lot for that.

I was impressed by the academic life and scientific activities at the USP. This university fully deserves its rank as the leading academic institution of Latin America. Apart from my research I took part in various seminars and gave guest lectures for students at FFLCH and USP’s School of Communication and Arts. The discussions were very inspiring and helped me to advance my own research agenda.

I found my Brazilian experience particularly interesting being a scholar from Central-Eastern Europe. Our region has got a different history than the Western Europe as well as a different structural position in the modern world-system (I’m using here the term coined by Immanuel Wallerstein and Fernand Braudel). It makes Central-Eastern Europe, paradoxically, closer in many respects to Latin America than to Western Europe: it’s a (semi)peripheral zone, marked by a colonial experience (expansions undertaken by Russia, Prussia and the Habsburg Empire in late 18th and 19th centuries), with traditional, family and religion oriented societies, strongly patriarchal with a deep modernization trauma. I was particularly inspired by the diagnosis of Brazilian troubled relations with modernity put forward by Roberto Schwartz in his seminal essay Misplaced Ideas. I’d like to thank Vinícius Domingos for bringing this text to my attention.

What made my stay at USP even more interesting was the possibility to get to know Sao Paulo and Brazil. Sao Paulo is truly amazing and unique. I had a chance before to live for some periods of time in several mega-cities and metropolises such as Paris, New York, Buenos Aires or Barcelona and visited many others while travelling, but Sao Paulo is an exceptional place. Its skyline and urban landscape is second to none in my personal opinion. I was impressed by how well Sao Paulo is organized and managed. Its subway system, for example, measures only 78 kilometers as opposed to 440 km in London, however it carries 4.6 million passengers every day, slightly more than London’s Tube. Sao Paulo, led by the charismatic mayor Fernando Haddad, has introduced many progressive policies. Hundreds of kilometers of bike lanes have been constructed in just several years. City Hall’s publications foster tolerance and openness to LGBT community.

I was equally impressed by Brazil as a country. I travelled extensively in South America before (in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Uruguay) and I did a field research in Argentine in 2008 and 2009. I found Brazil to be a world apart, a completely different and much more developed country, especially in its South. I’m aware of many shortcomings of the governments of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rouseff, however the social progress achieved in the last 15 years is outstanding: 30 million people have been elevated from extreme poverty and Brazil is out of world hunger map now. I keep my fingers crossed for further progressive reforms in much more difficult times that are set to loom over Brazil over the next couple of years.

Many people from USP and others, not associated with it, contributed to making the time I spent in Brazil both scientifically fruitful and personally enjoyable. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank those not mentioned above (in alphabetical order): Gustavo Garcia, Euan Gibb, Lygia Gibb, Susana Lopez, Artur Matuck, Marcus Cesar Ricci Teshainer, Katia Rubio, Gabriele Saltore, Deusa Maria Souza-Pinheiro Passos, Gabriel Trettel Silva and Felipe Ziotti Narita.

Many thanks to Jennifer Edmond and Tomasz Bilczewski for coordinating the project in Dublin  and Kraków.

Jan Sowa (https://jagiellonian.academia.edu/JanSowa)

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Kosta Bovan: FPZG SPECTRESS Fellow in Delhi

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When I thought about how to write about my stay in India I remembered what a friend of mine said – you can read all about India on blogs, in travel guides, talk to people who already been there; but in the end nothing can prepare you for that experience. I find this to be completely true. Coming from Croatia, a country of 4.5 million people, to Delhi, a city of 18 million, would require an adjustment by itself, not to mention the hectic traffic, the heat and the multitude of stimuli all around. I was lucky to have found a nice apartment near Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). My flat was situated in Munirka, a nice and easy-going neighborhood.

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JNU has a beautiful campus and walking around it feels like walking in a forest which happens to have a few buildings and roads in it. Professors Aditya and Mridula Mukherjee were kind hosts, as well as their PhD students who welcomed me as one of their own. I attended their meetings, gave and received valuable insights about their and my work. My work mainly took place at the campus library or at the library of Nehru Memorial.

I did some traveling around with my wife and friends – first timers in India should definitely visit the golden triangle; Jaipur, Varanasi and Agra. Those towns are filled with so much color, lovely sights, excellent food and beautiful parks; I would say this about Delhi as well.

I learned a lot about India’s history and culture, but also about its political struggles and cultural traumas. The complex historical relationship with United Kingdom and especially with Pakistan have shaped much of today’s political issues and positions. Despite its turbulent history and the great number of differences within the society, India feels like a stable, healthy democracy. I think this is due to the basis of the modern country’s creation, in the thought of Gandhi and Nehru, especially in their non-violent approach.

The major problem in India comes from the great number of people living in poverty and with low prospects for upward social mobility. Despite this, people in India seem to be happy, always eager to help a stranger out. Their curiosity about your background (especially if you are coming from former Yugoslavia) is only matched by their kindness and willingness to make you feel a part of their family.
Working for the SPECTRESS project gave me an opportunity to get to know India, have a productive time and gain insights into processes of cultural traumas. I enjoyed my time in Delhi and I am looking forward to going back!

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Marie Sophie Hingst: TCD SPECTRESS Fellow in Delhi

Namasté! I was seconded to the Centre for Historical Studies at Jawaharhal Nehru University in New Delhi during the summer months of what would turn out to be the hottest year since 1994. The JNU campus is even in the midst of a scorching hot summer beautiful, lush and green. The campus is a paradise for bird-spotters and even antilopes are passing by occasionally. The JNU community is a thriving and political active one. The graduate student community is a most welcoming and friendly one and over a cup of chai more than one afternoon was spent with inspiring discussions and shared interests that reached far beyond historiographical topics. I would particularly like to thank Anandaroop Sen, Akshay Joshi and Naveena Naqvi for their warm welcome, their patience and their open doors.

My stay in New-Delhi offered me the possibility to explore the work of Franz Kafka and his inherent dealings with different traumatic contexts with students from a wide range of the Faculty of History and Humanities. I was encouraged by Professor Rekha Rajan to set up a reading group that would meet weekly to discuss texts of Franz Kafka. The name Franz Kafka invokes the familiar portrait of a neurotic, hypochondriac writer, who was able to make a problem out of absolutely everything and died shortly before his forty-first birthday. He left an oeuvre that resembles rather a large jigsaw puzzle, open for manifold forms of interpretation. Some claim all has been said already, other find nothing has been said at all about this world-famous author. I intended to meet in the middle and wanted to look at a selection of well-known and unknown texts of Kafka to discuss the role of the “national” and “trauma” in his work and contrast them with other writers. The group that met every Wednesday included students from the Department of History, the Centre for German Studies, Latin-American, English and Gender Studies. All of us being shy and uncomfortable at first, our reading of Kafka turned out to be a mesmerizing experience. The texts we read included Kafka’s letters to Milena Jesenská, Abstracts from “The Castle” and various short stories among them: “A Hunger Artist” and “The Great Wall of China”. The questions raised in the discussions connected the world of the early twentieth century Prague with the twenty-first century New-Delhi. We contrasted Kafka’s search for identity with our very own examination of individuality in a post-colonial society .Kafka’s texts soon became the fundament to discuss political issues. We approached with the texts in our hands one of the most challenging subjects of the Indian society; the status of women. Kafka, the most subtle author of violence provided us with a vocabulary to approach the traumatic experience of the body. Gestures such as shaking hands with members of the opposite sex, clapping or whistling, kissing in public or not, were interpreted in political terms. Alienation, peer pressure and the questions of religion, caste, gender and class were connected directly with literature. The categories themselves were attached to everyday life experience. Especially after the infamous 2012 “bus rape” our discussions were challenged by questions of gender-based violence and the visibility of women in everyday Indian life. There was something both in Kafka’s fiction and in his biography that we instinctively related to our own backgrounds. But reading was not enough. A modern dance performance “A male ant has straight antennae” created by the performance artist Mandeep Raikhy took place at the Goethe Institute in New-Delhi and offered for our group the opportunity to connect with the outside world. The piece seemed to put on stage the topics of our discussions. It explored in the form of modern dance notions of masculinity and the relation between men and women on the street. The Gati Dance Company created an intense artwork that explored notions of masculinity through stereotypes and variable perspectives. Being confronted with the strong physical presence and exposition, we sat together in the garden of the Goethe-Institute after the performance grasping for words to describe the emotions the piece had unlocked. With great openness all participants shared their own views on the artwork but also on their perception of Indian and Western values and art concepts, of female and male role- models and the various shapes and shades of society. In some way the evening became a turning point. We as a group were united in our sense that literary and artistic works did neither belong to a certain culture nor was connected to political ideologies. Quite in opposite it belonged to us and defined our search for an understanding of reality’s fickleness and frailty. I am still deeply moved and grateful to all participants, who read, argued, discussed and shared their notions on Kafka and the world with me. Reading Franz Kafka was a challenging and most fruitful undertaking. I learnt not only to read Kafka with new eyes but was able to gain deep insights in the historical contexts and contemporary debates taking place in the Indian society. I met so many interesting, brave and wonderful men and women, who taught me to ask new questions and never to trust old answers

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Tihomir Cipek: FPZG SPECTRESS Fellow in Sao Paulo

Bom Dia SPECTRESS!

I’m starting the report on my visit to Brazil with “Bom Dia” (Good Morning) which is the most common greeting in Brazil and Sao Paulo – the fascinating town with great university. In this city “Bom Dia” may however last up till around 3 pm, but in spite of it or specifically because of it everything functions just perfectly.

The Road to Knowledge

The Road to Knowledge

My stay in Brazil offered me a possibility to share the preliminary results of my research with Brazilian colleagues. For that purpose I gave the lecture titled “Trauma and Cultural Memory” for the participants of Irish Studies at Sao Paulo University. I tried to present the main theses laid down by Jan Assman who introduced the notion of cultural memory in his book “Das kulturelle Gedächtnis”. Assmann and Andreas Huyssen have identified a general interest in memory and mnemonics since the early 1980s, illustrated by phenomena as diverse as memorials and retro-culture National identity results directly from the presence of elements from the “common points” in people’s daily lives: national symbols, language, national colours, the nation’s history, national consciousness, national trauma, etc. In my lecture I tried on the Croatian example to answer the questions such as: What is national trauma? Who is a hero? Who is a victim? I concluded with demonstrating the deficiencies of Kansteiner’s and Haraldweilnboeck’s line of argument which completely rejects the concept of cultural trauma.

Lecture Poster

Lecture Poster

I was also honored by opportunity offered by the colleagues from the study of political sciences to give a visiting lecture. I named the topic as “Disappointment with Democracy? Right Wing Populism in Europe”, starting my lecture with the thesis that what we are witnessing today is a conflict between elites that are becoming increasingly suspicious of democracy and angry publics that are becoming increasingly illiberal. I also tried to argue for an opinion that populists are democrats but they are not liberal. The junction with the SPECTRESS program I based on the fact that specifically the right wing populism usually uses in its propaganda the narrative of cultural trauma or – if there’s no such – fabricates it itself.

I was really privileged to learn from Brazilian colleagues. I had an exquisite opportunity to get know with the two excellent analysis of cultural narratives. I faced the first one within the Irish Studies whose main occupation is specifically the explication of reasons and circumstances of social and religious conflicts that had been developing in the Irish context as a national conflict as well. Especially useful for me were the analysis that dealt with the models of establishment of national traumas within the Irish literature. That helped me to follow the similarities and differences between the Irish and Croatian case, as both are the examples of the small nations that have won their independency in a war. As well in the many other European nations the war appears as the crucial collective trauma. The discussions and lectures given by Brazilian colleagues motivated me to make for SPECTRESS project an analysis of how the Croatian war trauma is been addressed on the film. Particularly valuable for me were the methodologies and methodological models used within the theory of literature that I had an opportunity to be informed with, on which I’m especially grateful to the professor Laura Izzara.

At the site of Brazilian glory and trauma

At the site of Brazilian glory and trauma

The stay in Brazil also made me realize the typical cultural traumas for Brazilian society. It’s an interesting fact that the war doesn’t represent the core traumatic memory, which in fact isn’t very surprising as Brazil didn’t take significant role in neither of great world wars. From the other side the fact that the defeat from the Uruguay football team represent a real traumatic memory for Brazilian people really surprised me, albeit having in mind that the main Brazilian achievements are the football ones. Coming with rather superficial knowledge about Brazilian social situation I was truly amazed when I realized that traumas and traumatic memories have been in fact very slightly used in the process of national establishment – maybe with the exception of Tiradentes’ execution. The main narrative that establish Brazilian identity is formed around the Brazilian way of life, around the joyful mood, good spirit and samba, which beside the language and ethnic toleration really function as one of the main identity concepts. In that sense, it was very useful to see the Museum of language and Afro-Brazilian Culture for example, but the other Brazilian museums as well. All in all, my stay in Brazil was more than instructive experience, for which I’m very grateful to SPECTRESS and my Brazilian colleagues!

To all the members of SPECTRESS project I wish therefore to accomplish their work on the project’s programs in the manner of the Brazilian term “Borogodo”! As it had been explained to me, this term signifies the specific dance-step in samba, but also the capability to achieve your goals with a help of a little bit of luck. Hence, Borogodo!

 

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Camila Batista: USP SPECTRESS Fellow in Dublin

I was seconded at Trinity College Dublin from September 2014 to February 2015. This was my second time in Ireland, but the first experience of living abroad for a long period. While at Trinity, I worked at the Long Room Hub, a wonderful space that inspires research and debate. I also attended the various activities promoted weekly in the Hub, which allowed me to meet people from different parts of the world and specialists on several fields.

The Long Room Hub

The Long Room Hub

My work consisted primarily on research and study. I tried to make the most of my time going to and back from the library, where I could find books that are not available in Brazil. Since my research is about contemporary Irish literature and its relation to history, I had access to many historical and critical works, both in print and online.

The aim of my study in Ireland was to build a corpus of historical novels published during the Celtic Tiger period and to gather references on literary trauma theory. I was able to find four novels that work on history published between 1994 to 2008: Roddy Doyle’s A Star Called Henry (1999), Jamie O’Neill’s At Swim, Two Boys (2001), Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea (2002) and Sebastian Barry’s A Long Long Way (2005). These novels are set during important periods of Irish history, such as the Great Famine, the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and World War I. Regarding to theory, I came up with some theorists that work with the representation of trauma and denial in literature, such as Joshua Pederson (2014) and Stanley Cohen (2001).

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Trinity College Dublin

My time in Dublin also allowed me to travel to some Irish cities where I have friends. I went to Cork to visit Professor Claire Connolly and to Limerick to visit Professor Tina O’Toole, two longtime friends of mine. I could also attend cultural events such as the Dublin Theatre Festival and some Q&A sessions with writers at Hodges Figgis bookstore.

Overall, my experience in Dublin was very valuable and enlightening both personally and professionally. I am sure that my research developed considerably during the secondment and I will take the experience with me for the rest of my academic career.

Q&A Session with Roddy Doyle

Q&A Session with Roddy Doyle

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Jane Ohlmeyer: TCD SPECTRESS Fellow in Delhi

I was seconded to the Centre for Historical Studies at Jawaharhal Nehru University in New Delhi. As the founding Vice President for Global Relations at Trinity College Dublin (2011-2014) I had visited India on numerous occasions but this was my first opportunity to live in Delhi for a sustained period. Both professionally and personally my time at JNU proved to be a fabulous experience. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Professor Rajat Datta, head of the Centre for Historical Research at JNU, and other colleagues at the centre who made me feel extraordinarily welcome. I would particularly like to thank Professors Mridula Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee and Sucheta Mahajan for their friendship and warm hospitality.

with the Mukherjees

with the Mukherjees

Founded in honour of Nehru during the 1970s, the JNU campus, set in a 400-acre forest, is exceptionally beautiful. Bright wall murals are reminders of the socialist principles that underpinned the founding of JNU and which give its academic activities such credibility, passion and intellectual energy. My base was an office in the Centre for Historical Research in the heart of the campus. While the focus of my stay was research I had an opportunity to give classes to gifted masters students, one of who wrote a splendid research essay on the Eamon De Valera’s anti-partition tour to India in 1948.

with the class and Prof Sucheta Mahajan

with the class and Prof Sucheta Mahajan

murals

murals

At JNU I spent most of my time working in the history library and drowning in the historiography of the Mughal Empire and Colonial India. I also used this opportunity to connect with leading scholars, especially of early modern India, the Mughal Empire and modern India, whose research informed and enriched my own. In return, I hope that my knowledge of colonial Ireland contributed to the research culture of the Centre for Historical Studies. On the foot of conversations with Professor Rajat Datta we will organise in November 2015 an international conference entitled ‘Configuring Early Modern South Asia’ (Institute of Advanced Studies, JNU, November 2015), a major theme of which is ‘Empires, incorporations and transitions: expansionism, colonialism, cultural trauma’.

Mughal miniature showing King James VI in the bottom left hand corner

Mughal miniature showing King James VI in the bottom left hand corner

My current research takes Irish interaction with India back into the late seventeenth century and suggests that Ireland served as a colonial prototype for the early colonization of India. Between 1669 and 1677 Gerald Aungier was the governor of Bombay and president of Surat and while scholars of India and of the British Empire have acknowledged his importance as the ‘founding father’ of Bombay none have paid attention to his Irish provenance, nor assessed how this might have shaped the formation of the Bombay colony. Though my main archive, that of the East India Company, is in the British Library in London I took this opportunity to work on the extant archives of the East India Company in Mumbai (Maharashtra State Archives, Elphinstone College), and consulted other relevant collections in the National Archives, Delhi, the Cama Library, Mumbai, and the Tamil Nadu Archives in Chennai.

archives, documents

archives, documents

I also visited many of the places that I am researching and writing about: Surat, where the East India Company was based in the seventeenth century and where Aungier is buried in a majestic Mughal-Indian style tomb; Ahmedabad, the centre of the lucrative calico trade; Bombay, where the experience of sailing into the bay in a 35 foot yacht is one that I will treasure; and, of course, Delhi itself, home to both the Mughal and British Empires.

sailing in Bombay

sailing in Bombay

In March and April I had the opportunity to speak about my research at a variety of universities and research institutes across India. In Delhi I gave papers to the research seminars at Centre for Historical Studies, JNU and at Delhi University; to the faculty at the GGS Indraprastha University, Dwarka; and in Mumbai I spoke at Jnanapravaha and the Cama Library. I benefited enormously from these interactions with Mughal and Indian historians, who corrected my mistakes, helped me to refine my argument and provided leads for further research.

I also gave public lectures at Thapar University (Patialia and Chandigarth campuses), which is a private university in the Punjab, that Trinity has developed particularly close links with. I was particularly honoured to deliver the Athar Ali Memorial Lecture at Aligarth Muslim University and to spend time with Professors Irfan Habib and Shireen Moosvi. I also had the opportunity to meet the director of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Shimla and to interact with influencers, such as the documentary maker, Shyam Benegal, the director of the Mahindra Humanities Institute at Harvard, Homi Bhabha, and the journalist and public intellectual, Anil Dharker.

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Living in India is not for the faint hearted. Yet I quickly came to appreciate the colours and chaos of the streets and became adept at haggling with the tuc-tuc drivers and shopkeepers. The Aravali Guest House, with its beautiful spring garden of giant marigolds, tall lupins and blousy dahlias, became my home for the duration of my secondment. The accommodation was spartan but clean, safe and friendly. The ‘mess’ there served delicious lunches and dinners: fried river fish and seasonal vegetarian dishes, especially ‘aloo gobi’, became my staples. And, of course, I fell in love with the mangoes. No mango anywhere can compare with an Alphonso, fresh from the tree.

Indian street life

Indian street life

Aravali Guest House

Aravali Guest House

Every day brought a fresh encounter with nature: screeching peacocks woke me at sunrise; at bedtime geckos scuttled up corridor walls in search of pesky mosquitoes; ‘nilgais’, majestic bluish antelope, lurked amongst the trees in the garden of the History library; pigeons and monkeys periodically invaded the archives; and bugs of every description abounded, along with the odd snake. On the day before I left a black and bristly wild boar, chased by the ubiquitous stray dogs that have made the JNU campus their home, hurtled along the road in front of the vice chancellor’s office.

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When I arrived in January Delhi was still chilly and foggy but as the temperatures rose I had the privilege of enjoying an Indian spring. JNU is famous for its deep purple and vivid pink bougainvillea and other flowering trees – silk cottons, Indian laburnum and cannon balls – lined the streets and parks of Delhi, resplendent with exotic blazes of red and yellow flowers. By May the temperatures had reached 43 degrees and it was time to retreat to the cooler (and much tamer) climes of Cambridge and Dublin, where I’ll encounter a very different type of wild bore!

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