Nationalism and the City in India: A Historiographical Overview

Prashant Kidambi
17 June 2010

Kidambi’s historiographical overview provides a clear, concise and detailed account of trends in the historiography of Indian nationalism as it relates to cities and urban life in India during colonial rule. Within this talk, he focuses on the period from the mid-19th century to the early years of the 20th century. In particular Kidambi questions the conclusions of the Indian political theorist Chatterjee, namely that the middle class were alienated from nationalism and the colonial cities. In contrast, he argues that they both had agency and wanted to assert their own social dominance.

His two focal points within this talk are firstly, an examination of political customs associated with various institutions, such as local politics or the press, and secondly, analyses of how the political agency of the nationalists was exercised through performances, protests and their wish to use the colonial city as a nationalist space. In addition to this, he comments on how further research needs to be undertaken, particularly in order to understand the different levels of society, and how political events caused the nationalists to move and shift between them. Kidambi’s lecture also provides a brief but thorough account of the process of colonialism within the city, noting how the middle class had to keep a balance between being patriotic Indians and obedient servants of the British Empire, and how nationalism changed throughout the period in question.

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