Transforming the ways we represent traditions from the past
The Center for Public History (CPH) is India’s first institution to explore ways of creating, understanding and engaging with historical resources. Founded in 2011, CPH is the only institution that actively addresses the gap between historical research within academia and the public understanding of the past. In its attempt to democraticize history, CPH has built oral history resources for archives, interpreted archival resources and hertage sites and communicated its research to wider audiences in accessible forms.
CPH anchors a pathway in the Master of Arts program in New Humanities and Design [link], which enable students to develop their practice as public and oral historians by working on real time projects that are commissioned to ARCH@Srishti - the research consultancy unit of CPH. The Center is the only institution in India to regularly offer certificate courses in Oral History to students, Ph.D. scholars, family historians, urban historians and other aspiring professionals.
Keen to create a public context of scholarship, CPH is open to applications from scholars and resident fellows (with independent funding) who wish to undertake a Ph.D. based at the Center through the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, which is affiliated to the Manipal Institute of Higher Education.
CPH and its consultancy unit ARCH@Srishti finished the commemorative volume on the history of the Indian Museum titled The Lives of Objects: Stories from the Indian Museum. The book, commissioned for the museum’s bicentennial celebrations, was released by the Governor of West Bengal Keshari Nath Tripathi, in Kolkata on July 5, 2017.
A spread on the mask collection of the Indian Museum from The Lives of Objects: Stories from the Indian Museum, 2017
CPH trained a group of 12 teachers to work with students of VidyaShilp Academy, Bengaluru to undertake a local history project that combined archival research and oral history. The teachers were mentored by CPH and worked with 120 students for a year. The program culminated in a student-led public exhibition at VidyaShilp.
Teachers of VidyaShilp were trained by CPH to undertake a local history project with their students. Students of VidyaShilp at the exhibition they created as part of the CPH project, 2017
CPH conducted a three-day Oral History Certificate Course from February 15 to 17, 2017 with five students from institutions across India and a few members of the Srishti faculty.
CPH held its third Winter School from November 1 to 10, 2017 with eight students from India and abroad. The theme of the Winter School was “The Inner Life of Interviews: Oral History and Inter-subjectivity” and was taught by Professor Alessandro Portelli (Rome, Italy), Professor Martha Norkunas (Tennessee, USA), Dr. Nina Sabnani (IITB. Mumbai), Dr. Indira Chowdhury (Srishti, Bengaluru), artist Aanchal Malhotra (New Delhi) and film maker Deepa Dhanraj (Bengaluru).
In 2017-18, CPH offered General Studies units on What is Public History?, Thinking through Things, and The Afterlives of the Tiger of Mysore, among others, at the undergraduate level. At the postgraduate level, CPH offered a learning unit on Archives and the Social History of Movements, Objects and Technologies. A CPH faculty member also co-curated a studio titled Contesting Heritage in the Srishti Postgraduate Interlude 2017 .
CPH organized the XIXth International Oral History Conference of the International Oral History Association in Bengaluru from June 27 to July 1, 2016. The conference saw the participation of over two hundred delegates from six continents around the theme “Speaking, Listening, Interpreting: The Critical Engagements of Oral History.”
CPH organized a public event on March 23, 2017 to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the end of the Emergency in 1977 that celebrated the political cartoons of the late Abu Abraham.
On November 7th and 9th, CPH organized two public events at the Indian Institute of Science – a public lecture by Professor Martha Norkunas on Narratives, Resistance, and the Shifting Geographies of Power and a panel discussion on Memory and the Art of Interviewing with Professor Alessandro Portelli, Dr. Nina Sabnani, Professor Martha Norkunas and Aanchal Malhotra.
Dr. Indira Chowdhury gave a talk titled Whose history? Which India? at TEDxMAIS on December 16, 2017.
Dr. Indira Chowdhury delivered two lectures – one on the institutional history of science and the other on oral history and oral tradition – at the Azim Premji University in 2017.
Dr. Indira Chowdhury was a panelist at the Mumbai Lit Fest for the session “Typewriter Tales” on the book With Great Truth and Regard: The Story of the Typewriter in India (Mumbai: Godrej-Roli Books, 2016) – for which she had done oral history interviews with typewriter manufacturers and street typists – on December 4, 2016.
Dr. Srijan Sandip Mandal gave a talk titled Do We Have a Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression? at the Indian Academy Degree College (Autonomous), Bengaluru on September 23, 2017.
Siddhi Bhandari, a faculty member at CPH, has completed her thesis titled Photographers and Photography: A Sociological Study. The thesis will be submitted to the Delhi School of Economics for the award of a Ph.D. in Sociology.
Srijan Sandip Mandal, another faculty member, was awarded a Ph.D. in History from the University of Hyderabad in February 2017 for his thesis An “Illusory” Freedom? The Restrictions on Speech and Expression in the Constitution of India. The thesis was also awarded the Department of History’s annual best thesis award in October 2017.
Research and Practice
Oral History and the Study of Institutions in India:
CPH has pioneered the investigation of historical knowledge through non-traditional sources. Our public history initiatives have engaged with public understanding of the past through the exploration of collective memory. Oral history is one area in which CPH specializes and over the years, CPH has built oral history archives for a number of significant institutions of postcolonial India. The interpretation of such archives has enabled CPH to initiate the historical study of contemporary institutions.
Research into Audio-visual and Material culture
Working with Museums and Archives, the research at CPH has integrated oral history and visual sources with archival documents, material culture and performance practices. Our unique approach to research is driven by an emphasis on multiple perspectives that draw attention to cultural pluralism and diversity. Taking advantage of its location within a reputed design school, CPH has assimilated design practices with historical research creating exhibitions and publications that work with textual and visual communication.
Indira Chowdhury’s Growing the Tree of Science: Homi Bhabha and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (2016) is based on the archives of TIFR that she set up.
Partnerships with Institutions
Through ARCH@Srishti, its research consultancy unit, CPH has forged collaborations and partnerships with institutions, corporates and NGOs to create archival documentaries, displays, exhibitions and books which enable distinctive forms of public engagement with the past.
The CPH Research Experience at Multiple Levels
CPH offers an engaged learning experience through research at every level. Working with undergraduate and postgraduate students at Srishti, CPH strengthens their idea of research and research methodology in order to understand themes and topics in a field. At the postgraudate level, CPH will anchor a pathway within the MA in New Humanities and Design, which requires a research-based capstone or dissertation. CPH provides students with the experience of working on projects it has been assigned thus enabling them to gain a deep knowledge of research techniques and processes and build their research and consultancy capabilities. Present Ph.D. students based at CPH are equipped with research tools that enable them to investigate heritage sites and urban historic landscapes.
From the academic year 2018, CPH will anchor a pathway in Public History and Heritage Interpretation (PHHI), one of four that will be available in the Master of Arts program in New Humanities and Design offered by the School of New Humanities and Design. This unique multi-disciplinary pathway is the first of its kind in India and offers students an opportunity to learn new ways of engaging with historical sites, monuments and institutions and thus address the contemporary challenges of interpreting history. This pathway will empower students to include in their interpretations of the past diverse voices and multiple sources and thereby engage with history outside of conventional academic practice. This pathway will create professionals who have the ability to transform museums, heritage sites and archives into spaces that dynamically interpret the past by reimagining history with new technologies.
CPH has been organizing the Winter School in Oral History (WSOH) an advance course in oral history, which engages with the scholarship, theory and methodology of oral history. The 2-week long course is taught by international faculty and has attracted students from UK, USA, Europe and the SAARC countries. This cutting edge course in oral history - a developing area of study in India will be offered annually from 2018.
As a part of its academic program, CPH has been training graduates in the theory and practice of oral history through short-term introductory courses. These short courses certificate courses are the only such courses in oral history offered in India.
CPH has had a broad focus on the history of institution-building and institutional memory and will continue to expand that research area in the future. Serving as a link between new thinking about historical resources and diverse institutions in India, CPH and its consultancy unit, ARCH@Srishti, will continue to research, record, collect and curate archival material in the form of books, exhibitions and performances. There are several book and archival projects undertaken by ARCH@Srishti that are nearing completion:
A commemorative book, The Story of Sasha and the Archives of Sasha, a pioneering crafts organisation based in Kolkata.
- The Triguna Sen Project
A book on the first Vice Chancellor of Jadavpur University, Kolkata entitled Lessons in Living: Stories from the Life of Triguna Sen
- - Siddhi Bhandari. “Festival of Colors in the Hills of Northern India.” Berkeley Journal of Sociology. Vol. 60, 2016.
- - Siddhi Bhandari. “Making of a Photo Image.” Society and Culture in South Asia. Delhi: Sage, 2018.
- - Indira Chowdhury, Growing the Tree of Science: Homi Bhabha and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, New Delhi: OUP, 2016.
- - Indira Chowdhury, “ ‘Looking the Tiger in the eye’: Oral History, Heritage Sites and Public Culture.” Chapter in David Dean ed., The Companion to Public History, Hoboken, New Jersey, Wiley Blackwell, 2018.
- - Indira Chowdhury and Srijan Mandal. “Public History in India: Towards a People's Past.” Chapter in What is Public History Globally? Using the Past in the Present, edited by Paul Ashton and Alex Trapeznik. London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2018.
- - Indira Chowdhury and Srijan Mandal. “East of the West: Repossessing the Past in India.” Public History Review 24 (2017): 22-37.
- - Srijan Sandip Mandal and Sreeparna Chattopadhyay, “Digital Misogyny as Hate Speech: Exploring Legal Implications”, paper presented at the National Dialogue on Gender-Based Cyber Violence, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, 1-2 February 2018.
- - Indira Chowdhury, “Navigating the Unfinished Archives: Collecting Family Memories”, at the “International Family History Workshop”, University of Manchester, UK, 22 September 2017.
- - Indira Chowdhury, “Possessing the Past: Oral history and memories of displacement”. Invited keynote speaker at the Australian Biennial National Oral History Conference, Oral History NSW, Sydney, Australia, 13-16 September 2017.
- - Indira Chowdhury, “Can Museum Objects have a second life? Creating a commemorative volume for Asia’s oldest museum”, part of a panel on “History, Memory and Acts of Public Commemoration” at the 4th International Federation of Public History Conference at Ravenna, 5-9 June 2017.
- - Siddhi Bhandari, “Making of a Photo-Image: The Case Study of Rise Media Publications,” paper presentated at the International Conference on Visual South Asia, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh, 10-11 May 2017.
- - Indira Chowdhury, “The oral histories of scientists and what they tell us”, at the Department of Oral History and Contemporary History, invited speaker, Charles University, Prague, April 2017.
- - Indira Chowdhury, “The Institutional History of Science in India and its Challenges”, plenary speaker at the international workshop on “Global perspectives on the Public Understanding of the Past”, Department of History, University of York, UK, 14-16 September 2016.
- - Indira Chowdhury, “The predicaments of institutional legacy: Archival oral histories of TIFR”, at the XIX International Oral History Conference, Bangalore, July 2016.
- - Indira Chowdhury, “Entering the City of Mirrors: Oral History in Oral Cultures”, 50th Anniversary International Panel at Oral History Association Conference, Long Beach, USA, 4-7 October 2016.
- - Indira Chowdhury, “The Speaker and the Listener: Oral Narratives as Dialogues”, keynote address at the National Seminar on Oral Narratives at Sophia College, Mumbai, 22-23 January 2016.
Members at CPH
Dr. Indira Chowdhury: Director
Dr. Srijan Sandip Mandal: Faculty
Siddhi Bhandari: Faculty
Indira Bharadwaj: Coordinator