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Georg-August-Universität Göttigen

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Rijksuniversiteit Groningen MA thesis proposal Arnab Dutta
Arnab Dutta
MA Euroculture (2015 – 17)
Home University: Göttingen
Host University: Groningen

01. Proposed title:

“Borders and boundaries in the land of the quasi-masters: Continental Europe as seen
through Bangla travel narratives 1919-50”

02. Introduction and the overview of the problem:

The genesis of the new literary genre of travelogues on Europe in the Indian language
Bangla flourished almost during the same time English-educated youths started setting sail to
England in the nineteenth century. A large number of them facilitated introducing a European
form of that literary genre in Bangla, interspersing it with certain forms of cultural anxiety
and a constant method of cultural comparison. Not all of them were in their youth; but a
considerable number of them came to Europe when they were in their late teens or in early
youth, and discovered a new urban experience in the world of their ‘masters’. Living in
Europe, and consequently writing about urban Europe in an altogether non-European
language formulated its own complex matrix of engaging with the relationship between the
colonial masters and the subjects coming to study in the land of the masters. But apart from
this direct interface of engaging with the British Isles, their relationship to the rest of Europe
was a bit more intricate in nature. Almost all the Indian travellers to England usually took a
ship to Brindisi in Italy or Marseilles in France, and had to travel across continental Western
Europe even before getting acquainted for the first time with the ‘land of the masters’. A few
of them eventually made a sojourn to Central Europe later as well. While the immediate
relationship with the ‘Continental’ Europe did not involve a similar thrust of colonial mastery
over somewhat ‘inferior’ British Indian subjects, most of the travelogues employed a
different set of cultural anxiety and comparison of urban identities, first with India and then
with an altogether ‘different Europe’ i.e. Great Britain – thus provincializing (à la Dipesh
Chakrabarty) one’s own lived experience of Europe into separate categories of ‘masters’ and
‘quasi-masters’. The way in which they had to deal with various empires and newly-emerging
nation-states represents an outsiders’ notion on the internal boundaries between various

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Georg-August-Universität Göttigen
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Rijksuniversiteit Groningen MA thesis proposal Arnab Dutta
different European communities – the linguistic borders, the gastronomic border, the cultural
split, to name a few.

This is mostly the general story. However I am to contextualise it to answer a specific


research question. One can notice that there has been sustained research on the relation
between the metropole and the colony, in terms of mobility and travels of people within
British Empire. However there has been very little if any significant discussion from an
Indian point of view about rest of the territorial space of Europe – the mainland of the
Continent. The ‘alternative space’ that the Continental Europe was to the Indian travellers
continues to shape the ideological and conceptual responses of people of the Indian
subcontinent even towards the current political situation in Europe. Although it is not going
to be at the core of my research one can notice how there has been a major media-discourse
around the British populace of Indian and Pakistani origin voting in the recent Brexit
referendum against a reconcilable territorial cooperation between the British Isles and the
Continent1. One must clarify at the very onset of it that this emphasis on the territoriality of
and the boundaries within Europe is by no means returning to the ‘geographical logic’ of the
conceptualisation of this continent. It is to complement/ contest/ evaluate what Delanty calls
‘inventing’ Europe. An interesting aspect of this logic of invention/ construction is that it
does not delimit itself within a geographical territory. It gets replicated and appropriated even
in places far beyond Europe’s immediate reach. This is, perhaps, going back to the
foundational disciplinary question of Euroculture, “How is the term/ concept/ idea of Europe
defined/ interpreted/ analysed?” and “How does it look when it is done in a non-European
language?” The structures of human mobility, their intellectual choice often define the
direction of this social reproducibility of these ideas and concepts. If one is to consider
Europe not merely as an entity but a ‘concept’ (as it is defined in the disciplinary realm of
intellectual history) it would inevitably have many faces and facades. My research is going to
be an analysis of one such face – the concept of Continental Europe as represented/
discussed/ analysed/ contested in Bangla printed sources from 1919 to 1950. Moreover, it is
going to use primary sources that are hitherto untranslated into any European language and
have never been used in a significant academic discussion about the reciprocity of relation
between late colonial British India and Continental Europe. I could already locate the primary
sources, and have spent much time during last summer break to access both governmental

1
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/22/migrant-parents-vote-brexit-british-vote-leave,
accessed on 28 September 2016

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Georg-August-Universität Göttigen
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Rijksuniversiteit Groningen MA thesis proposal Arnab Dutta
and private archives in India to get hold of the travelogues, serialised in journals but never
compiled in any printed book.

It is crucial to justify my choice of language and time frame. In order to make it focused
and contextualised, and also to fit it within the scope of an MA thesis, this research is going
to use primary material in only one language, Bangla. As quoting from Tapan Raychaudhuri
Dipesh Chakrabarty argues in his Provincializing Europe that Bangla speaking populace was
“the first Asian social group of any size whose mental world was transformed through its
interactions with the West2” it will be convenient to historicise the specific timespan of my
research within a longue durée of intellectual reciprocity between Bangla-speaking world and
Europe. That is why in my proposed title I have mentioned only of ‘Bangla’, thereby
avoiding the loophole of being representative of speaking for whole ‘India’ without actually
consulting primary sources in various Indian languages.

Regarding my proposed timespan, 1919 is very important because after returning from
South Africa to India M. K. Gandhi started his first major political movement (Non-
cooperation movement) in that year. Responding to the call of Gandhi to reject British
institutions many affluent Indians who could hitherto send off their wards to universities like
Oxford and Cambridge started to send them to places like Berlin and Paris. They, in turn,
were the first ones to write about continental Europe of interwar period. There has been some
research on the beginning of an altogether different type of mobility. Samuel Berthet has
done some work on Indian diaspora in Paris in the post WWI years. This would, in turn,
correspond to Michael Goebel’s recent work3 on interwar Paris. Coming back to my
proposition, I am planning to look at this surge of mobility and its literary representations.
Although there have been a lot of works on the mobility within British Empire, focussing on
England in particular, I am thinking of looking at the ‘Continental travelogues’ and analyse
how the mainland Europe became an alternative space for British colonial subjects to have a
different understanding of the concept of Europe and reflect on the changing notion of
European ‘civilisation’ and ‘culture’. There is another crucial impetus behind choosing 1919.
It is because of the Treaty of Versailles and Treaty of Trianon. The hitherto known borders

2
Chakrabarty, Dipesh. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial thought and historical difference. Princeton, New
Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2009. P. 4
3
Goebel, Michael. Anti-Imperial Metropolis: Interwar Paris and the Seeds of Third World Nationalism.
Cambridge University Press, 2015.

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Georg-August-Universität Göttigen
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Rijksuniversiteit Groningen MA thesis proposal Arnab Dutta
within the continent got changed and kept repeatedly changing over the course of next 25-30
years! Those who were writing about the Continent had to deal with not only the difference
between Britain and the Continent but also a fluid and ever-changing sense of boundaries
within Europe. The last few years of Third Reich are particularly interesting to look at Indian
responses to European borders. The end-point of the time span is chosen to be 1950 not
because of any political event, but due to the dearth of Bangla travelogues during and
immediately after WWII. The first major ‘Continental’ travelogue that talks about the
aftermath of war and the re-organisation of new-Europe’s boundaries is Saheb Bibir Deshe
(In the land of masters and mistresses), written by Narendra Dev in 1950. I am to use another
prominent travelogue from 1950s, Charonik by Mohanlal Gangopadhyay. Although it was
written in 1950, its major concern is about the initial years of the war. This has, for example,
a rich section on the position of Sudetenland, and Third Reich's policies regarding the
German-Czech border.

If we start thinking of Europe primarily as a geographically demarcated landmass the


question of borders and boundaries lies at its core. So even if we think of a group of people’s
response to the ‘idea’ of Europe one is bound to reflect on the sheer repetition of the concepts
of Europe’s external and internal borders and territoriality. Considering that research question
I am thinking of a title, “Borders and boundaries in the land of the quasi-masters:
Continental Europe as seen through Bangla travel narratives 1919-50”.

03. Research question

How the idea/concept of Europe as a continent dealt with/ discussed/ interpreted/ contested in
Bangla travelogues between 1919-50?

04. Sub questions


i. How was the term ‘Europe’ in these travelogues used in relation to the territorial
notions of intra-European borders and boundaries?
ii. How did ‘Continental’ travelogues written in Bangla respond to the complex and
ever-changing intra-European borders of interwar period?
iii. To what extent does this conceptualisation of internal and external boundaries of
European continent help writing an intellectual history of the concept of Europe
in early twentieth century?

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Georg-August-Universität Göttigen
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Rijksuniversiteit Groningen MA thesis proposal Arnab Dutta
05. Methodology

Since the primary sources of this research are from British India of early twentieth
century, it is mostly an archival venture. Most of these writings are not available as books in
today’s Bangla-speaking world. Some writings were never compiled in a book; they
remained in some short-lived journals of early twentieth century. As it would not be possible
for me to return to Indian libraries and archives and directly access these materials during the
fourth semester of Euroculture programme, I have already spent a couple of months in last
summer to locate the available sources and get them scanned in order to be able to access
them while writing the thesis in Europe. There would be no interview and ethnography
involved.

The actual mechanism of working with the material is to primarily do a literary analysis
of the texts. This involves the task of finding the ways in which the term Europe is referred to
in the texts, both as a geographical landmass related to its territoriality and also as a
‘concept’. This would help us unfold the process of signification of any specific usage. After
translating the concerned sections from Bangla to English the literary analysis would then be
followed by a discourse analysis of the findings to understand the relationship between the
discourse of Europe present across the texts and the discourse of Europe’s internal and
external borders and boundaries. As far as the methods are concerned, this research will try to
be as self-reflexive as it can, thereby not committing any epistemic violence to these
essentially ‘literary’ constructs in the name of politico-historical methods.

06. Division of chapters

Except for the introductory and the concluding chapter, I am planning to divide the main
body of the text into four chapters

i. Introduction: Overview, reviewing the existing literature, gap in existing research,


research question(s), methodology

ii. Historicising the place of European continent perceived within the literary culture
of Bangla speaking world. Looking at travelogue as an imported genre in
nineteenth century British India, and analysing how did Europe start featuring in
those first travelogues from late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

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Georg-August-Universität Göttigen
&
Rijksuniversiteit Groningen MA thesis proposal Arnab Dutta
iii. How was Europe defined/ interpreted/ discussed/ analysed in these specific
travelogues from 1919 to 1950, and why were they different from the preceding
and subsequent ones?

iv. How did Bengali travellers talk about Europe’s internal and external boundaries?
How did they differentiate their Europe into different categories of masters’ and
quasi-masters’ space?

v. How and why did these narratives respond to the unique situation of intra-
European borders of interwar period, mostly during the later years of the Third
Reich? What idea/ concept of Europe did emerge from my findings and analysis?

vi. Conclusion and hinting at the scope of future research

07. Bibliography

Primary material

i. Ali, Syed Mujtaba. Chachakahinee. 1959 (written about Berlin of 1920s and the rise
of national socialism)
ii. Chatterji, Suniti Kumar. Europe 1938. 1938
iii. Chatterji, Suniti Kumar. Paschimer Jatri. 1935
iv. Dev, Narendra. Saheb Bibir Deshe. 1950
v. Gangopadhyay, Mohanlal. Charonik. 1942
vi. Ray, Annadashankar. Pathe-Prabase. 1929
vii. Ray, Anndashankar. Europer Chithi. 1927
viii. Tagore, Rabindranath. Paschim-Jatrir Diary. 1929
ix. Serialised articles about travels in Europe, published in three leading Bangla journals,
Prabasi, Bharatbarsha and Basumati (1919-50)

Secondary material

i. Balibar, Etienne. We, the people of Europe?: Reflections on transnational citizenship.


Princeton University Press, 2009.

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Georg-August-Universität Göttigen
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Rijksuniversiteit Groningen MA thesis proposal Arnab Dutta
ii. Chakrabarty, Dipesh. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial thought and historical
difference. Princeton University Press, 2009.
iii. Delanty, Gerard. Inventing Europe: idea, identity, reality. Palgrave Macmillan, 1995.
iv. Goebel, Michael. Anti-Imperial Metropolis: Interwar Paris and the Seeds of Third
World Nationalism. Cambridge University Press, 2015.
v. Lubrich, Oliver. Travels in the Reich, 1933-1945: Foreign authors report from
Germany. University of Chicago Press, 2010.
vi. McMahon, Darrin M., and Samuel Moyn, eds. Rethinking modern European
intellectual history. Oxford University Press, 2014.
vii. Moyn, Samuel, and Andrew Sartori, eds. Global intellectual history. Columbia
University Press, 2013.
viii. Mukhopadhyay, Bhaskar. "Writing home, writing travel: The poetics and politics of
dwelling in Bengali modernity." Comparative studies in society and history 44, no. 02
(2002): 293-318.
ix. Pagden, Anthony. The idea of Europe: From antiquity to the European Union. Vol.
13. Cambridge University Press, 2002.
x. Raychaudhuri, Tapan. "Europe in India's Xenology: The Nineteenth-Century
Record." Past & Present 137 (1992): 156-182.
xi. Sartori, Andrew. Bengal in global concept history: Culturalism in the age of capital.
University of Chicago Press, 2008.
xii. Sen, Satadru. Benoy Kumar Sarkar: Restoring the Nation to the World. Routledge,
2015.
xiii. Sen, Simonti. Travels to Europe: Self and other in Bengali travel narratives, 1870-
1910. Orient Blackswan, 2005.
xiv. Zachariah, Benjamin. "At the Fuzzy Edges of Fascism: Framing the Volk in
India." South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 38, no. 4 (2015): 639-655.