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Posts Tagged ‘India’

“Floundering in the Slough of Despond” – singleness, unfitness, and the British woman missionary in India, c.1920-1950
Andrea Pass (University of Oxford)
Christian Missions in Global History
5 December 2012

This is a guest post by Charlotte De Val, one of IHR Digital’s interns from the University of Leicester.

By the early twentieth-century, single women dominated the British missionary enterprise in India. In a seminar from December 2012, Andrea Pass discusses her paper on the pressures, physical hardship and mental difficulties experienced by single women of the two leading Anglican missionary societies – the evangelical Church Mission Society (CMS) and the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) – in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Pass focuses on three key issues: the impact of pressure from work on the health of single women missionaries; the difficulties with relationships with colleagues and others; and the difficulties experienced due to challenges to their vocation. The reality of their educational, medical and evangelical service is at the heart of the seminar as Pass emphasises the extreme conditions and expectations of self-sacrifice in the missionary field.

The paper is based on the archives of the SPG in Oxford, the archives of the CMS at the University of Birmingham and the archives of St. Steven’s community in Delhi. A key problem with these sources is accessing women’s opinions on personal issues such as health and happiness. Though the most controversial content was either censored or never collected in official society reports, some controversial issues were recorded but not publicised, and some personal letters are also found in the archives. These personal letters are the most prominent material in the paper, and Pass uses them in conjunction with the official society papers to compare experiences and expectations.

Firstly, Pass explores the impact of illness on missionary work, and the frequency with which female missionaries suffered from nervous breakdown and exhaustion. At the centre of this discussion are the intertwined notions of physical and spiritual fitness. The title quote for this seminar is given as an example; the ‘slough’ in the pilgrim’s progress is reference to the ‘deep bog in which Christians sink due to the weight of sin and guilt’. Pass provides examples to show how physical illness could lead to feelings of spiritual inadequacy and, in reverse, feelings of spiritual inadequacy could lead to physical illness.

Miss Sigoruney Trask Woman's Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1869-1895 (wikipedia)

Miss Sigoruney Trask one of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1869-1895 (wikipedia)

The subject of relationship difficulties is divided between disputes and friendships. The vast majority of disputes on missions occurred between female colleagues and often were the result of generational tensions. The difficulties caused by friendships, however, are more complex. Pass discusses the exclusivity of friendships and the problems for newcomers as well as the more controversial friendships between missionaries and ‘outsiders’. Pass includes a detailed example of a missionary’s friendship with a Roman Catholic, Lady Alexandra Haley, to explore the issues these friendships could cause. Aside from the belief that it removed women from their missionary work, Pass introduces the medical and psychological discussion of ‘sexual starvation’ and ‘obsessive’ friendships; by the 1920s, she identifies, contemporary psychological vocabulary on ‘sexual starvation’ had percolated into missionary debate.

Finally, Pass discusses the challenges to the vocation of single women missionaries. Most prominent is the conflict of the missionary ‘calling’ with some other better fulfilment of their professional capabilities and familial responsibility – for example, marriage. Pass identifies the problems with conflicting ‘callings’ in the administrative defects of SPG and CMS and contemporary criticisms of the society for failing to address personal crisis. Personal conflicts between members of the societies’ staff are also discussed, as are the theological differences between SPG and CMS and the impact this had on the physical and mental wellbeing of single-women missionaries.

In conclusion, Pass emphasises the gruelling reality of the field which tested the missionaries’ declaration of purpose. In her final remarks, however, Pass is adamant that the negatives of women missionaries’ experiences should not be over-stressed; the majority of women chose to ‘soldier on’ in the faith that ‘out of despair came hope, out of darkness came light.’

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‘My other mother’: Separated families and mourning as agency in narratives in the 1947 Indian partition
Oral History seminar
7 February 2013
Anindya Raychauduri (St Andrews)

This is a guest post by Charlotte De Val, one of IHR Digital’s interns from the University of Leicester.

 

As many as 15 million people crossed the borders that were created in the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan. Aside from the major political impact this had nationally and world-wide, the partition transformed families physically and emotionally. In February 2013, Anindya Raychauduri delivered a lecture on the separation of families and the agency of mourning in partition narratives. Following current historiographical trends, the project is interdisciplinary; oral history narratives, literature and cinema are studied together to identify the lasting impact of familial trauma and the areas in which it is most pronounced.

migration into Pakistan (1947) (wikipedia)

migration into Pakistan (1947) (wikipedia)

From the total eighty-five interviews conducted by February 2013, five are used in the lecture, and these are used to discuss various issues, including the representation of partition through the disintegration of the family. Familial decline and the disintegration of the stable family-based community it also explored; Raychauduri discusses this with particular reference to the famous partition short-story – Toba Tek Singh – which, published in 1955, follows Lahore asylum inmates through their transfer to India, and the 1973 film Garma Hava (Scorching Wind).

The use of literature and cinema is particularly useful in the discussion of public discourse, where the family is used as a metaphor to depict the trauma of partition.  Raychauduri observes that the memories of individual family members in the oral narratives were female; the issue of gender is central to the memory of partition, where the ‘lone woman’ was an iconic symbol of suffering. Women were disproportionately affected by partition, and over 75,000 women were abducted, raped and/or forced to covert religion. While recognising this disproportion, Raychauduri confronts the problems with appropriating women’s trauma to reflect the wider trauma of partition; the discourse appropriates women’s victimhood to represent the entire nation which reduces women to symbolic victims, and thus robs them of agency.

Finally, Raychauduri addresses agency and mourning using the films Garm Hava and Khamosh Pani to expose the tropes of female victimhood. The value of an interdisciplinary approach is particularly evident in the discussion of the politics of subtitling, where female agency is particularly manipulated and mis-represented. Raychauduri concludes that women must be viewed not just as victims, but as active agents who often found ways of exerting agency even when they were often alienated. With respect to his approach, Raychauduri asserts that the strength of history is in its ‘multi-layered interpretation’; the collective use of cinematic and literary sources with oral narratives can provide insights into the individual, collective and national trauma of the 1947 partition, while exposing problematic representations and appropriations.

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British History in the Long Eighteenth Century
30 January 2013
Giorgio Riello (University of Warwick)
The World is not Enough: Global History, Cotton Textiles and the Industrial Revolution

 

(Wikipedia)

(Wikipedia)

Although the title of this paper might remind you of a James Bond film, this paper is not about the media or large conglomerates  but about the industrial revolution, and in particular the trade and use of cotton textiles. The Cotton industry formed a major component of the British Industrial Revolution but because of that the story is often formed around the rapid transformation of cotton and textiles in the nineteenth century, and generally focused around the British story.  This is not the approach that Giorgio Riello outlines in today’s paper.  Riello believes that the story of the cotton industry is made more interesting and accurate by looking at a wider picture over a longer period of time and across the world.  Cotton has a long history well before it arrived in Europe and so Riello looks at its use from 1000 AD up until the sixteenth-century as well as mechanisation in later centuries.  Through this prism it is possible to see that the changes evoked in Britain were part of a wider story that crossed from India, to China and the Americas, even a little into Africa.  Riello’s primary questions are why this major industry moved from predominantly India and China to Europe and why and how this because mechanised.  The arguments form the backbone for a forthcoming book on Cotton and the Early Modern World.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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Anglo-American conference 2009: Cities
Swati Chattopadhyay (University of Southern California Santa Barbara)
Cities and peripheries

When we talk about cities and urban spaces we are in the habit of using a specific language that we generally believe to provide acceptable descriptions.  However, Swati Chattopadhyay believes that the words we use are not specific enough and that our descriptions presuppose a certain view of history and the relationship between natural and fabricated reality.  There are two examples used as demonstration.  The first is the increase in slums and the difficulties that our language has in identifying the meaning of these places and their connections with cities and rural locations.  The second is a focus on rivers, especially in India, and how their changes in shape, size and form over time has an impact on our attempts to control land by making it into landscape.  Where are the boundaries of a city?  Is it where maps tell us it is, or is it more fluent than that?  These are basic questions that Chattopadhyay asks or our usual interpretations of urban spaces.  

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