Archives and the City
Under the theme of ‘Explore’, the session began around the centrality of space in archives. Swati, Tripti, and Friederike from the Missing Basti Project spoke about building a counter map of Delhi that showed its negative image of evictions and resettlement of working-class people. The archive was a living repository of peoples’ lives through video interviews. We were told how the archive was used as an advocacy tool, as well as for informing urban policy makers.
Prof. Ayonna from University College of London deliberated on the contentions between physical and digital archives of cities. Giving Shimla’s example, she spoke about how, for officials who take decisions on demolishing neighbourhoods, what mattered was how the hill station appeared on the web (to the average tourist), rather than detailed colonial documents in the public records room. She cautioned, however, how subaltern histories did not find easy access to either physical or digital/web archives.
Dr. Malini talked about her experiences of taking oral interviews of veteran planners of Delhi and other metropolitan cities, as well as block-level planners from Kerala and Punjab. Her motivation was to see if planning style was monolithic across India, the nature of data gaps on which planning is done, and the need for urban planners to synthesise their work with indigenous practises of planning.
Finally, Siddharth from QAMRA gave a brilliant peek into Bangalore’s history of queer migration and activism. He showed the audience some of QAMRA’s collection like the publication of the city’s first queer magazine ‘Sanghamitra’. The collection at QAMRA, he said, was creating a memory map of queer life in Bangalore. Questions around decolonizing the urban planning process, problems of standardization in unconventional archives, and the possible loss of direct engagement in digital archives were answered by the panelists when the floor opened for discussion.
- Session introduction
- Swati Janu (Missing Basti Project)
- Tripti Poddar (Missing Basti Project)
- Waiting for Resettlement (video)
- Freiderike Thonke (Missing Basti Project)
- Ayona Datta (University College, London)
- Malini Krishnankutty (IIT, Bombay)
- Siddarth S. Ganesh (QAMRA)
- Q&A session
- Social Media https://www.instagram.com/the.missing.basti.project/
- San Francisco evictions/maps (perhaps connected to the reference Friederike made) https://antievictionmap.com/
Archiving in and from South Asia (Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, India)
This panel hosted archivists and historians from India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka to engender a conversation on the collective experience of archiving, and using the archive in South Asia. Ali Usman Qasmi, Historian, LUMS University, Lahore, speaks about how the Pakistani state makes certain archival records easier to access while masking others—especially those of marginalised communities—with red tape. He takes us through the digital archive of LUMS, explaining his and Prof. Ali Raza’s involvement in making these curated collections digitally accessible. Mr. Nasir Javaid, Mushifq Khwaja Trust, presents the work being undertaken by the Trust towards digitising rare Urdu periodicals under the Endangered Archives Project Grant. He has also been instrumental in digitising and making accessible rare Urdu books, Urdu film posters, and is currently digitising Amir Khusrau’s works. He has collaborated with numerous international universities for these projects and is discovering new knowledge about Colonial India.
Ponni Arasu, Historian and Independent Researcher, remarks that they all share crucial affective experiences in common while archiving across South Asia. Her work takes her to archiving beyond the hegemonic—archiving the oppressed in zones of conflict. Explaining her take on identities, space, and time in the archive, she talks about her work with the Dravidian Movement in Tamil Nadu, and her more recent projects of archiving women’s art and women’s ecologically conscious food growing practices in post-war Sri Lanka.
Shamik Mishra, Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya, Nepal, talks about the growing demand from academia to archive what they consider important at the risk of material in vernacular languages. He comments on the challenges faced by the rising archiving scene in Nepal, shortage of funding and the feasibility of digitising. G. Sundar, Roja Muthiah Research Library Chennai, has been involved in creating a network of training and mutual collaborations between archives in South Asia for two decades now. He speaks about the South Asia Microfilm, South Asia Initative, and the Roja Muthiah Research Library’s evolution. The Q&A delves into the politics of ownership, privacy and access; collaborations with Western universities; and the nature of education while engaging with the archive.
- Ali Usman Qasmi (Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan)
- Ponni Arasu (Queer feminist activitst, historian and lawyer, Sri Lanka)
- Nasir Javaid (Mushfiq Khwaja Trust for the Advancement of Knowledge and Culture, Pakistan)
- G. Sundar (Roja Muthiah Research Library, India)
- Shamik Mishra (Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya, Nepal)
- Q&A session
- Mushfiq Khwaja Trust EAP project on Urdu periodicals https://eap.bl.uk/collection/EAP566-5
- Roja Muthiah Research Library https://rmrl.in/
Cultural Heritage and the Imperial Past
The discussion examines the different manifestations of cultural heritage. Eleanor Newbigin, Senior Lecturer, SOAS, London, presents the methodology she uses to teach histories of partition in culturally diverse UK classrooms. Tailoring Amrita Shodhan’s course to her needs, she has emotional encounters with her students as they learn about contentious periods in history, as they reconcile ‘home history’ with ‘school history.’ Iqbal Singh, Regional Partnerships Manager, National Archives UK, uses drama in widening and deepening the past—to explore complex events and draw people into the archive, to further, enquire and research. His lecture-demonstration focuses on citizens of the Indian Subcontinent who were part of the King’s army in World War I.
Pramod Kumar K.G., Co-founder and Managing director, EKA Archiving Services, speaks about the idea of the Imperial past and the insiduous ways it enters our life. He illustrates how imperial ideology continues to be perpetuated through the politics of art, archiving, and acquisition. He uses the example of the Howard Hodgkin Collection to explore the intricacies of cultural repatriation. Medhavi Gandhi, Heritage Lab, focuses on the importance of open access in narratives and enabling communities to shape these narratives. She shows how her work engages, empowers and facilitates new forms of artistic creation based on open source images.
Shalini Sharma, Lecturer, Keele University, navigates us through her work with the Jallianwala Bagh Centenary Committee—claims made on the ownership of history and the potentially empowering nature of archives. She states that an awareness of South Asian Diasporas in Brit history is denied to British citizens with a South Asian Heritage. She unveils the racial and gendered politics embedded into archiving practices in the UK. The following Q&A answered questions on the ownership of cultural heritage, silences in Imperial history, and the power of archives to provide anti-colonial discourse.
- Iqbal Singh (The National Archives, United Kingdom)
- Pramod Kumar (Eka Archiving Services)
- Medhavi Gandhi (Heritage Lab)
- Eleanor Newbigin (SOAS University of London)
- Shalini Sharma (Keele University, United Kingdom)
- Q&A session
- https://medium.com/open-glam/gifs-that-keep-on-giving-a-look-back-at-gif-it-up-india-6518b3aa136a https://www.history.org.uk/publications/resource/9230/decolonising-the-partition-of-british-india-1947