On Saturday 19 October 2019, five members of the Doing History in Public editorial team spoke at the Festival of Ideas. We sought to uncover echoes of today’s headlines in unexpected places and explore the historical roots of current issues. Stephanie examined the links between medieval and modern knife crime; Laura discussed the ‘the will of the people’ today and in Tudor England; Aoife explained how lessons from the Irish famine can help us respond to the migrant crisis; Mobeen showed how today’s beauty industry is shaped by legacies of racism and colourism; finally, Helen asked does today’s youthquake have a longer history? This blog will summarise the key points of each speaker. Read more
Posts from the ‘Mobeen Hussain’ Category
In Australianama, author and academic Samia Khatun skilfully weaves an intricate patchwork of hitherto unexplored connections between South Asia and Australia. I first heard about Australianama at an Islam and Print in South Asia Workshop at the British Library where Khatun was presenting on her work on South Asian peoples in Australia. She shared her research journey, relating how she came across a photograph of a book labelled as the Quran located in the desert lands of Australia in Broken Hill, noting how the words looked like Bengali script. At the workshop, as well as in the book, she shared her experience of visiting the mosque to find that the book was not the Quran but a book of Bengali Sufi poetry called Kasasol Ambia (Stories of the Prophets), all the while wondering how a book published in Bengal found its way to an inland Australian mining town. (Khatun, 3) This question is where Khatun’s Australianama begins.
We were both lucky enough to attend two events with the revered black communist scholar and activist Professor Angela Davis in March and April. The first was held at the Southbank Centre in London for International Women’s Day as part of the Women of the World festival with the centre’s former Artistic Director Jude Kelly CBE and the second in Cambridge in conversation with Scottish Poet Laureate Jackie Kay organised by Decolonise Sociology. Both conversations reflected on Davis’s life and work, her iconic status as a black activist, and the legacies and futures of social activism.
As a colonial officer in India, it was paramount that one knew what to expect and how to prepare for the sweltering climate. The mid to late nineteenth century saw a surge of advice books and manuals, mainly written by men, for families voyaging to the Subcontinent. One such book was entitled Real Life in India, embracing a view of the requirements of individuals appointed to any branch of the Indian Public Service (1847) by ‘An Old Resident’ which detailed precise lists of items required, ranging from home furnishings and hygiene products to clothes and ladies’ equipment for the ship. This list included white cotton stockings, white silk dittos, white muslin clothing and white nightdresses alongside soap, perfume and toothpowder. The emphasis on white represented the colonial preoccupation with purity, propriety and health in a climate that was perceived to be exotic, degenerating and dangerous, especially for women. Many of the items listed also attempted to transport and replicate the perfect English home from the metropole to the colony and such manuals were aimed at middle-class women, in particular, who would be able to afford to hire a host of ‘native’ servants (a departure from their lives in England). Resources from the colonies also enabled a more diverse consumer culture to flourish in the metropole, one that allowed a housewife to purchase branded ‘Windsor’ soap and choose from a variety of other cosmetic products sold by local producers and international companies.
Image: By an old resident, Real life in India, embracing a view of the requirements of individuals appointed to any branch of the Indian public service; the methods of proceeding to India; and the course of life in different parts of the country, London: Houlston and Stoneman (1847), Wellcome Collection, London, pp.145-146.
Alice Procter is a historian of material culture based at UCL. She has six years of tour guiding experience at heritage sites and galleries and runs Uncomfortable Art Tours, podcasts and writes under the umbrella of The Exhibitionist. I had the chance to interview you her about her work and to discuss how her tours fit into wider critiques of national history, spaces and narratives.
The Wagah (or Wagha) border is the Punjab border between India and Pakistan. It is approximately 29 km from the town of Lahore on the Pakistani side and 27 km from Amritsar on the Indian side. Whilst undertaking archival research in Lahore, I was told about the daily lowering of the flags ceremony or parade which takes place at the border. I attended the parade one weekend alongside hundreds of other spectators. These border ceremonies are popular tourist attractions on both sides and are well attended by eager residents and visitors, especially on weekends and national holidays. Other parades, such as the Beating Retreat ceremony on Independence Day, are also held at the border. For me, as an historian of South Asia and a British Pakistani without the patriotic zeal of my fellow spectators, the parade was a bizarre tableau of contradictions.
On my first visit to the Punjab State Archives in Lahore this summer, I met with the archive’s Director, Mohammed Abbas Chughtai, who explained that the archive and its libraries have received fewer visitors after the events of 9/11 due to concerns about safety in the country. The archive does, however, receive some non-native and international scholars, and the Research Officer and Director were eager to help as well as point visitors in the direction of other useful resources. Coupled with this enthusiasm is the “chai and chat” culture of Pakistan; before delving into your research, you may well spend some time waiting, chatting, and being introduced to people. While researchers, including myself, will be in a rush to get started, these conversations have proved to be fruitful and a great way into the history and archive culture of Lahore. For instance, through conversations with the Director of the State Archives, I found out about materials at the Punjab Public Library and ended up spending a lot of time there. Indeed, the archives and libraries provide a snapshot of the vast archival and scholarly landscape of Lahore and are great, untapped treasure troves.
As historians, we are often used to thinking about an archive as a fixed set of documents kept in a static physical location. An appropriate historical source is often considered as such only if it can be verified by ‘real’ material from a ‘real’ archive. Yet, archives mean different things to different researchers. It can take the form of a conventional repository of documents or a database. For others, spaces like the home are active archival sites. World historians, and specifically those working on the social and cultural history of empire, often contend with the colonial archive and are required to read along the archival grain, as Ann Stoler puts it. One way of combating the limitations of the colonial archive is to supplement it with other materials such as oral memory.
Vladimir Putin was unsurprisingly victorious in this month’s presidential elections on the 18th of March. As with all political campaigns, candidates routinely utilise powerful self-branding images. In Putin’s case, historic forms of Russian exceptionalism were re-imagined to run on a distinct platform based on anti-Americanism, similar to his previous campaigns. Michael Bohm, in a 2013 article, suggested that Putin was determined to turn Russia into the only leading world power that can hold its own against the U.S. This anti-American branding of Russian exceptionalism alongside long held notions of Russian Orthodoxy and Holy Russia were harnessed to amass public support throughout the election. His conservative stance on gay rights and support of the Russian Orthodox church are indicative of this. Read more
This year’s International Women’s Day, on March 8th, was marked across the world with various marches, proclamations and campaigns highlighting inequalities and celebrating women. In the last two years, we have seen feminist campaigns in various institutions to challenge ongoing inequalities that disproportionately affect women, including sexual abuse, the gender pay gap and governmental policies. The earliest observance of a day for women was held by the Socialist Party of America on 28th February 1909 in New York at the suggestion of Theresa Malkiel. German Marxist Clara Zetkin initially proposed an International Women’s Day in 1910 with no fixed date. It had been predominantly celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries until it was adopted by the United Nations in 1975. Many historical demonstration actions have occurred on International Women’s Day, including in 1981 a demonstration when French women marched under the banner of the Movement for the Liberation of Women (MLF).
Whilst searching in the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton, London, I came across a pamphlet published by the Black Women’s Action Committee in October 1970. The Black Women’s Action Committee was part of the Black Unity and Freedom Party, one of many anti-racist and black rights campaign groups founded in the 1960s and 1970s in reaction to widespread discrimination. This group highlights a longer history of women of African-Caribbean campaigning in Britain. The committee’s pamphlet was distributed outside places where ‘beauty contests’ were held. Black beauty pageants were instituted in Britain for the very purpose of conveying pride in Black identity and pride. Read more
In the last few years, there has been a resurgence of period adaptations based on the British in India. This spat of television and film productions depicts particular historical narratives that romanticise the British Empire and hark back to the good-old-days of British imperialism. Indian Summers (2015), Victoria and Abdul (2017) and Viceroy’s House (2017) reveal a lot about the kinds of narratives that producers and the British public are interested in telling, championing and watching. With the exception of Indian Summers, these productions were post-Brexit and released in the year of the seventieth anniversary of India’s partition. Read more