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Partitioning History: The Creation of an Islamic Public in Colonial India
Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - 7:00pm

Partitioning History: The Creation of an Islamic Public in Colonial India, c. 1880-1920
with guest speaker: Ryan Perkins

Date: Wednesday, May 25

Time: 7:00pm

Place: Smith 296

In this paper I examine how Muslims in north India utilized the opportunities that print offered in the formation of a religiously predicated Islamic public. With heightened attacks on their religious, cultural and political systems from missionaries, colonial officials and histories, Muslims throughout the world began to utilize the medium of print to engage in debate and dialogue with their antagonists while also mobilizing their own community.

Using previously neglected sources—newspapers, journals, histories, serialized literature and readers' letters—I demonstrate the limitations of the existing colonial archive and highlight the ways in which the printed word affected peoples' lives in late 19th and early 20th century India.

I argue that the changes that took place in the public sphere in north India from 1880-1920 were fueled in large part by the perceived novelty of print. The subsequent uses of print and its reception were tied into a previously unimagined level of exchange that could now take place across wide geographic spaces and the belief that this would change their world. These uses represented experiments to map out the possibilities and limitations inherent in the world of print.

The 'failures' and 'successes' of such attempts to use the written word to bring about change were all part of this larger experimental endeavor where the 'failures' contributed to the further conceptual mapping that was taking place in ways that were no less significant than the 'successes'. Both 'failed' and 'successful' attempts to use the printed word to mobilize the Islamic public proved crucial to the transformations taking place in the public sphere as non-elite individuals were suddenly viewed as significant actors within a larger public.

Religious identities of the late 19th and early 20th century were far from historical givens and Muslims of this period used print not only to educate and mobilize other Muslims, but also to create an Islamic public that would enable them to achieve political agency in a post-Mughal world.