Monthly Archives: November 2018

Roundtable: Empire, Race, Humanitarianism as Contexts, Chronologies and Categories

Dr. Simon Jackson (University of Birmingham) The following blog post is part of “Humanitarianism: continuing the conversation” an occasional series Past & Present is running on its blog, developing and jumping off from the points raised during Past & Present’s recent humanitarianism conversation published online alongside (Past & Present #241). A round-table debate was held at the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Modern and Contemporary History and co-organised by the Institute of Historical Research’s Rethinking Modern Europe seminar, as part of its regular series of ‘roving seminars’ that seek to move the seminar’s activities away from London and into other institutional and intellectual contexts through a variety of partnerships. The theme in Birmingham was ‘Empire, Race, Humanitarianism,’ responding in part to a recent Past & Present conversation on the theme of history and humanitarianism. This short post presents a synthesis of the debate and some of the key avenues along which the historiographies in question might progress . Opening comments by Simon Jackson (Birmingham) set out some initial leads, drawing on the experience of archival research in a family archive in Beirut and on the conceptually challenging role of brokers in the humanitarian relief politics in the Eastern Mediterranean in […]

Looking Back to the Future: Nationalist Visions of India in the Twentieth Century

 Dr. Aashish Velkar (University of Manchester) When Abanindranath Tagore (1871-1951) made his iconic painting of Bharat Mata, or Mother India, in 1905, he gave form to a vision of a united nation. The image of a saffron clad woman, holding a manuscript, sheaves of paddy, a piece of cloth and a garland visualised India (or Bharat) as a nation united by its industry, spirituality, knowledge, wisdom and ecology (see Image 1). This process of visualising – giving form to an imagination – would be repeated in many different ways throughout the independence movement of the 1920s and the 1930s (see Image 2).1 The images gave material form to the nationalist aspirations for a politically united nation, which India was not before 1950, as well as an economically developed nation, which it certainly was not. Historiography notes how vivid and diverse these visions were. Tagore’s student, Nandalal Bose (1882-1966), captured Gandhi’s vision of an Indian society built upon localism and traditional arts and crafts. Bose’s murals, painted for the 1938 Congress session at Haripura celebrated village daily lives and rural traditions, tying them to the nationalist project of swarajya, or self-rule: the murals decorated the pandals, or the temporary platforms, erected […]

Lighting the Enlightenment

by Prof. Darrin M. McMahon (Dartmouth College) Try googling ‘light and enlightenment’ and see what you find. Buddhism, new age religion, mindfulness, and spirituality top the list. Scroll down and you may come across a few fleeting references to 18th-century theology. But if you are hoping to find discussions of the Enlightenment in the context of lanterns, illumination, and light, you’ll need to search a little harder, or be prepared to be left in the dark. Was there really no relationship at all between that great movement of 18th-century culture and actual illumination? Between the Enlightenment and light itself? To be sure, scholars have long probed the question in metaphorical terms, showing how a master Christian metaphor was wrested from the hands of those who had once proclaimed Jesus as the exclusive light and way. But to search for some connection between the material practice of lighting and the Enlightenment of the mind appears to have struck many as too basic, or too banal, to spark reflection. And yet it is clear that light in the age of Enlightenment was more than just a metaphor. We know from the pioneering work of social and urban historians of the night such as Wolfgang […]