Sunday, November 17, 2013

Delhi in the Nineteenth Century

Partly because of the anniversary of 1857 a few years back and the growing interest of how the British presence impacted and transformed the elites, whether social or intellectual, of the old Mughal Empire, Margrit Pernau's new book Ashraf into Middle Classes is an exciting new publication. It builds upon a recent volume that she edited on the famous Delhi College.

Pernau's monograph considers the period from the British hegemony in Delhi from 1803 through to the twentieth century Khilafat Movement culminating in the 1920s. The central issue of research relates to identity and how sharafat became a key feature of this. The study is divided chronologically into three periods: the initial British impact, the aftermath of 1857, and the period under Empire. Apart from the point that identity is fluid, dynamic and transformed, she also questions whether it is always formulated within the context of alterity. Questions of class, gender, and ethnicity are then weaved into this narrative. Given her own work within the history of emotions and the desire to use the data to inform comparative studies, she links and compares the notion of the ashrāf with the middle classes - the rise of the middle classes after all is linked to notions of modernity and progress in European history and in wider narratives of how modernisation and secularisation work in the modern world. A related video of a seminar at Chicago is here. The monograph is a rich and wide ranging study and will become a definitive account of the long nineteenth century in Mughal history.

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