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Imperialisms Workshop Description

map The World in the Time of Cabot, 1924

The World in the Time of Cabot, 1924

IMPERIALISMS: 2019 CSA Graduate Student Workshop 
April 19, 2019, Stanford Humanities Center(424 Santa Teresa Streetmap & directions)
OrganizersAnubha Anushree (Ph.D. Candidate in History) and Mejgan Massoumi (Ph.D. Candidate in History) 

The subject of empire is central to the questions of several disciplines, commanding both popular and political debate in our contemporary moment. The South Asian context is essential to both ongoing and retrospective conversations, serving as the crucible for perhaps the world’s most varied set of imperial formations. How can we think of empires as a relevant political category in contemporary South Asia? What happens when we interrogate empire beyond the idea of territorial conquest and think about its cultural, ideological, visual, and aural manifestations? Are empires just a chronological phenomenon belonging to the alterity of past? Further, what distinguishes empires from contemporary South Asian political forms that have historically depended on being distinct and even antithetical to imperialism? The 2019 CSA Graduate Workshop is animated by these broad questions.

The demise of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the beginning of economic liberalization in India (1991) — many believed —signaled the emergence of a political order that was no more conditioned by its colonial ancestry. Economic liberalization was viewed as the magical pill that would cure South Asia of many sociological, political, and moral asymmetries. Yet, the rise of nationalism across the region has skewed many such sanguine narratives. The emergence of nationalist and religious fundamentalism disturbs the neat binaries of the colonial and postcolonial world. Such changes raise questions about the endurance of both nationalism and imperialism. In what ways does nationalism and imperialism collide and converge? What analytical methods help us identify and distinguish the specific political forms and cultural logic that are a legacy of empires and imperialism? This year’s conference will take place the same month as the general election in India and in the wake of major elections in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, posing the timely question of the relationship between earlier, imperial visions of a unified polity and that of the modern nation-state. Are South Asia’s recent impulses towards religious hegemony and regional hegemony evidence of earlier imperial impulses, and if so, where do we locate it? Can the contemporary situation be informed by studies of premodern empires, and vice versa?

Much of nineteenth- and twentieth-century philosophy and history has focused on the decline and fall of empires and civilizations. Faced with the resurgence of imperial politics, a question for the twenty-first century is rather about the endurance of empire both in theory and practice. From Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's conception of empire as multitude via Pierre Manent's work on the metamorphoses of Western political organization to ideas of liberal empire in International Relations (John Ikenberry or Michael Ignatieff), the attempt to renew this theme requires critical engagement.

Against this backdrop, the purpose of this workshop is to gather an interdisciplinary group of graduate students at all levels to examine both the present moment and continuing legacy of empire. We invite papers that examine South Asia in a broad sense, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Nepal, the Maldives, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Myanmar or Burma, India, and transnational and diasporic spaces. Among others, the questions that will be debated include the following: Are we witnessing the resurgence of old empires or the formation of new ones? Winston Churchill remarked that the empires of the future would be "empires of the mind." Can power be contained or is it inherently imperial?

The workshop is organized by Stanford Center for South Asia in collaboration with Stanford Humanities CenterDepartment of History, and Department of AnthropologyPlease see the Workshop Website for event details and RSVP information. Inquiries shall be addressed by email to workshop organizers  Anubha Anushree ( and Mejgan Massoumi ( 

Image credit: “The World in the Time of Cabot”(Decorative map by MacDonald Gill from The Pageant of Empire. Souvenir Volume: An Anthology of British Empireby E. V. Lucas. London: Fleetway Press, 1924.  British Empire Exhibition, 1924, 1925 (Wembley); Retrived at this link from Cornell Library's digital collection on Persuasive Maps: PJ Mode Collection.)