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Title: Homo Ahistoricus: Reading Disavowals of History in Colonial South Asian Writing
Authors: Bhattacharyya, Ritwik
Advisors: Baer, Ben Conisbee
Prakash, Gyan
Contributors: Comparative Literature Department
Keywords: Anticolonialism
Bengali Literature
Historical Fiction
Philosophy of History
Subjects: South Asian studies
Comparative literature
Issue Date: 2016
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Homo Ahistoricus reads selected texts produced by the “natives” of British India which show signs of “disavowal” of history as a form of knowledge. It contextualizes these texts as responses to the colonial effort to produce historical subjects among the colonized. In recent postcolonialist reappraisals of historiography, history as a genre of Western origin has been challenged. Romila Thapar, V. Narayana Rao, and others, have claimed that history, in non-Western contexts, can be found scattered in various heterogeneous genres. Enriched by such insights, this dissertation examines instances where the boundaries of history (as a constative genre) were violated and literary forms were used to sustain an anticolonial “politics of truth.” Such violations are further demonstrated by the fact that in the course of writing history, some authors reserved the right to read the archives at hand by means and methods that fell beyond the strictures of history as an empirical discourse. The dissertation has two parts, each containing two chapters. Part I of the dissertation is called The Question of Ahistoricity. First, it deals with the colonial reformulation of the modern concept of history for legitimizing the political dependence or tutelage of the colonized. How this happened is demonstrated through some key texts of modern Philosophy of History. And then, in the second chapter, the variegated responses of postcolonial scholars to the colonial attempts to represent the colonized as ahistorical are analyzed. Part II of the dissertation is called Disavowals of History. First, it deals with the uses of mimeticism in the anticolonial historiography of Bankimchandra Chatterjee (1838–1894), where more than the truthful historical portrayal of the past, mining certain archives for the establishment of an ideal (to be emulated by nationalist subjects) gains importance. In the final chapter some texts by Haraprasad Shastri (1853–1931) are analyzed where attempts are made to portray Dalits as historical subjects. The dissertation concludes by reflecting on the politically enabling aspects of these disavowals and comments on what this history of disavowals may mean for the postcolonial rethinking of historical discourse.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Comparative Literature

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