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Center for Public History (CPH)

“But we belong to that very India which finds no place in the textbooks of history” - Rabindranath Tagore



Dr. Srijan Sandip Mandal leading a heritage walk about Tipu Sultan for the general public at Bangalore Fort in February 2020 as part of the India Heritage Walk Festival.


Lead:

Dr. Indira Chowdhury, Scholar-in-residence and Director, Centre for Public History


Team:

  • Dr. Srijan Sandip Mandal
  • Ms. Siddhi Bhandari


Mandate

Understanding, exploring and creating new engagements with history.

Public History takes on the challenge of interpreting the past and working with history outside of academia. We work with people’s experiences of the past to create a new understanding of history. Our research informs our approach to public history. We reconceptualise, reimagine and transform museums, heritage sites and archives, often using new technologies and always including voices that were earlier left out of the grand narratives of history.


Ongoing research projects by CPH members

Indira Chowdhury: “Oral histories of Midwives in India”. Ongoing research and book project.

This project began with my long interviews with Sulagitti Narasimha, a traditional midwife from Pavagada village who lived in Tumkur until her death in 2018. This project has also started looking at midwives in other locations such as Chhattisgarh and will look at the history and culture of reproductive health and explore the ways in which we can understand bodily knowledge and community knowledge.

Srijan Sandip Mandal: “An ‘Illusory’ Freedom? The Restrictions on Speech and Expression in the Constitution of India.” Book project.

The project began as a Ph.D. at the University of Hyderabad. The project examines why the right to freedom of speech and expression in the Constitution was restricted to allow colonial laws criminalising speech to survive. The monograph will look at the continuities between colonial and the postcolonial eras through the study of the Constitution.

Siddhi Bhandari: “Photographers and Photography in India: A Sociological Analysis”. Book project.

This project began as a Ph.D. at the Delhi School of Economics. The project explores the professionalisation of the work of photographers in the Indian context. The monograph will further develop ideas of materiality and technology related to photography.


Ongoing research project at CPH

MOSHI or Museum of Spoken History of India

Untapped resources, ignored by history textbooks, form a repository of people’s sense of legacy, of remembering and understanding the past. CPH has been collecting people’s memories and hopes to make them accessible through the Museum of Spoken History of India (MOSHI) using online and digital technologies. Conceptualized as a virtual museum, MOSHI records, collects and stores oral histories with well-known Indians who have shaped the course of Indian history as well as unsung and unknown Indians who have lived through the transformations India has witnessed. These recordings, together with appropriate photographs, will be made accessible to scholars, researchers and enthusiasts alike. MOSHI’s resources will help us understand the contemporary history of India. Therefore, as well as serving as a resource for understanding the present it will also be a permanent resource for the future.


Achievements

CPH members have received the following awards and fellowships

Dr. Indira Chowdhury

  • Rabindra Puraskar (Tagore Prize), 2001 for her book The Frail Hero and Virile History: Gender and the Politics of Culture in Colonial Bengal (OUP, 1998)
  • New India Fellowship, 2007 for book on the history of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai.
  • Visiting Fellow, Centre for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 2011.

Dr. Srijan Sandip Mandal

  • Dr. (Mrs.) Sheela Raj Memorial Medal for the “best Ph.D. thesis” in History of the year from the University of Hyderabad in 2017
  • Junior Research Fellowship from the Indian Council of Historical Research, Delhi from 2013 to 2016
  • Andhra Bank Medal for “having secured the first rank in the M.A. History examination” from the University of Hyderabad in 2009

Siddhi Bhandari

  • Doctoral Fellowship from the Indian Council of Social Science Research, Delhi from 2013 - 2015
  • Two time recipient of Delhi University Vice-chancellor travel grant to present at the Royal Anthropological Institute’s conference, Manchester June 2015; and Visual South-Asia conference, Dhaka May 2017.
  • Awarded the French Embassy travel grant to attend the 25th European Conference on South Asian Studies, Paris, July 2018
  • Author’s Workshop on Visuals in South-Asia, CCMG, Jamila Milia Islamia, New Delhi February 2020


Conferences

  • CPH has been organising conferences in new areas since its inception. It has organised some conferences along with national and international organisations.>/li>
  • 1-day international conference on “Oral History and the Sense of Legacy” at the National Gallery of Modern Art, 19 July 2011, supported by British Council.
  • 2-day international conference along with the Oral History Association of India, “Oral History in our Times”, November 2013.
  • 5-day international conference along with the International Oral History Association and the Oral History Association of India, “Speaking, Listening, Interpreting: The Critical Engagements of Oral History”, 27 June - 1 July 2016.


Books and Publications

CPH has created several archival books for scientific and academic institutions, museums and and NGOs.

  • Citizens and Revolutionaries: An Oral History of IIM Calcutta, Rupa: Delhi, 2012 [Indira Chowdhury, Aarthi Ajit and CPH, designed by Kumkum Nadig]. Kumkum Nadig received the Bronze ‘A’ Design Award for this book in 2017.
  • Looking Back, Looking forward: The Story of Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai, 2016 [Piyusha Chatterjee, Indira Chowdhury and CPH, designed by Kumkum Nadig].
  • The Story of Sasha, 2016 [Avehi Menon, Indira Chowdhury and CPH, designed by Nupur Bannerjee].
  • Lives of Objects: Stories from the Indian Museum, 2017 [Indira Chowdhury and CPH, designed by Kumkum Nadig and Prachi Prabhu].
  • Lessons in Living: Stories from the life of Dr. Triguna Sen: 2018 [Indira Chowdhury, Siddhi Bhandari, Archit Guha and CPH, designed by Kumkum Nadig].
  • The Botanical Illustration Collection at Lal Bagh: A Catalogue, 3 vols., 2011 [Indira Chowdhury and Sanchia de Souza, designed by Waseem Shaikh].
  • The Tiger Comes to Town, 2011 [Indira Chowdhury and Aliyeh Rizvi, designed by Waseem Shaikh].
  • Bangalore Storyscapes: Chapter One: MG Road. [Avehi Menon, designed by Tanvee Nabar.]


Selected Books and Publications by individual CPH members

Dr. Indira Chowdhury

“Looking the Tiger in the Eye: Oral History, Heritage Sites, and Public Culture.” In A Companion to Public History, edited by David Dean (London: Wiley Blackwell, 2018), 149-62.

Growing the Tree of Science: Homi Bhabha and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (OUP, 2016).

Dr. Srijan Sandip Mandal

and Indira Chowdhury. “Public History in India: Towards a People’s Past.” In What is Public History Globally? Using the Past in the Present, edited by Paul Ashton and Alex Trapeznik, 79-92. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019.

and Indira Chowdhury. “East of the West: Repossessing the Past in India.” Public History Review 24 (2017): 22-37. https://doi.org/10.5130/phrj.v24i0.5763.

Siddhi Bhandari

“Holi: Gender Dynamics and the Festival of Colours in Northern India”. Berkeley Journal of Sociology, Vol. 60 (2017)

“The Making of a Photograph”. In Visuals in South-Asia, edited volume. Routledge, 2020. Forthcoming


Archival Exhibitions and Films

CPH has worked through its consultancy unit ARCH@Srishti to create commemorative exhibitions and films for institutions in India. These exhibitions and films emerged out of the archival work and oral history interviewing that CPH conducted at these institutions.



Dr. M.R. Srinivasan at the “IMSc Fifty Years” exhibition at Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai, January 2013.



Visitors at the listening stations playing oral history excerpts at the “Welcome to the Archives” exhibition at IIM Calcutta, November 2014.


  • IIM Calcutta: A journey through time [Curated by Indira Chowdhury, Designed by:Agnishikha Choudhury; Graphic design by Sonali Mandke.] 2012
  • IMSc Fifty years [Curated by Indira Chowdhury and Aarthi Ajit, Designed by Binu Bhaskaran]. Permanent exhibition. 2013
  • Welcome to the Archives: IIM Calcutta Fifty years. Curated by Alison Burnes, Research and Content by Indira Chowdhury. 2014
  • IMSc Fifty Years: Virtual exhibition [Chitradip Pramanik].
  • Film on Institute of Mathematical Sciences done in collaboration with Srishti Films [Sanjay Barnela].


Archives

CPH has been working with various institutions such as museums, institutions of higher learning, NGOs and corporates to create historical archives of documents, photographs and oral histories to reconstruct the journeys of these institutions.



CPH has created the following archives:

  • Archives of IMSc
  • Sasha Photo and Oral History Archives
  • Economic and Political Weekly Oral History Archives
  • India International Centre Oral History Archives
  • Indian Museum Oral History Archives
  • Bangalore Storyscapes Oral History Archives, CPH


Consultations on Archival Policy

CPH has been consulted by several established and new archives to create their archival policy and rules and regulations.


Student work guided by CPH

CPH has guided a student project that used historical and oral history material to understand the relationship between health and nutrition through the creation of a cook book for a local Ayurvedic hospital.

Print output by Shikha Nambiar, student : The Ayurvedic Cookbook: Recipes from the I-AIM Kitchen (Student project with I-AIM, 2013. Recipes from I-AIM), 2013.


Courses offered by CPH


Masters in Public History and Heritage Interpretation

CPH has been instrumental in conceptualising and teaching the postgraduate course in Public History and Heritage Interpretation within the Master of Arts in New Humanities and Design.

CPH Winter Schools

The Centre is the only institution in India that offers a two-week advanced workshop with eminent oral historians from India and abroad, where students are introduced to cutting-edge research going on in oral history. The Winter School in Oral History (WSOH) began in 2013 and is held every alternate year. Over the years WSOH has addressed diverse issues such as Orality, Memory and Social Change, Boundaries and Narratives, Inter-subjectivity, among others. Oral historians who taught here include K. Lalitha (India), Urvashi Butalia (India), Alessandro Portelli (Italy), Miroslav Vanek (Charles University, Prague), Deepa Dhanraj (India), Martha Norkunas (USA), Alexander von Plato (Germany), Meghna Guha Thakurta (Bangladesh), Michael Frisch (USA), Kavita Panjabi (India), and Annie Valk (USA), to name but a few. Kindly visit our School of Continuing, Open and Professional Education (SCOPE) at Srishti Manipal


Winter School in Public History

In 2020, CPH offered the first Winter School in Public History (WSPH) on the theme, “The Public Lives of Objects”. This two-week long advanced workshop had museum curators, historians of science and technology and cultural historians engage with students about material culture and how to think about objects. The faculty included Dr. Klaus Staubermann (Germany), Dr. Roland Wittje (India), Dr. Annapurna Mamidipudi (India), Swarup Bhattacharyya (India) and Dr. Lisa Onaga (Germany). WSPH included practical, hands-on classes in local museums, factories as well as in a silk farm.


Certificate Course in Oral History

An intensive short-term course especially designed to introduce participants to Oral History, focusing on theory and practice, including how to curate and present oral histories and basics of archiving audio recordings. The certificate course is occasionally taught along with well-known scholars in the field. CPH has been holding such courses since 2013. CPH has also taught this course at the Department of History, Gauhati University 2013 and at Patan, Nepal in 2015. Kindly visit our School of Continuing, Open and Professional Education (SCOPE) at Srishti Manipal


Opportunities

CPH offers internships to students and professionals. Interns at CPH work with our current projects that involve researching, writing, transcribing and editing oral history interviews for community and institutional archives. Interns also work with CPH to establish, operate and catalogue archives and sometimes conduct oral history interviews. CPH also welcomes Fullbright and other independently-funded scholars to spend time at the Centre.


Enquiries

For more information about this program, kindly email Indira Chowdhury at indira@srishtimanipalinstitute.in