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Historicizing Space: Concept Note
(Please Note: last date for submitting applications is 1st March, 2019)
We live, identify, and function with historically produced conceptions of space that are often
given meaning through processes of boundary making. Spaces are conceived through and
given meaning in diverse practices- cartographic endeavours, societal interactions, cultural
norms, political differentiation, tenurial regulations, agrarian relations, economic segregation,
capital flows, violent territorial warfare etc. Spatial worldviews restrict and regulate, as they
simultaneously facilitate, movements and circulation of people, ideas, and practices.
The conference proposes to open up forms of production and contestation that are integral to
the discussion about spaces. The term ‘production’ would encompass historical processes
involved in the formation, construction, transgression, dissolution and reconstitution of
spaces within a given temporal framework. The concept of the longuee duree became a
significant methodological and analytical intervention in challenging the demarcation
between “human” or built environment and “natural” environment. This long tradition of
history writing, spearheaded by the Annales School in the 1940s and 1950s, pushed for a
deeper understanding of physical geographies alongside social spaces in order to both enlarge
and disturb individual-human time to include social and environmental time. The later
emergence of Area Studies and global histories, and focus on waterbodies (i.e. the
Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean) in part acknolwedeges the importance of these innovations.
Among the themes and categories that have emerged out of such scholarship are: the core
and the periphery; colony and metropolis; town and country; land and sea; mainland and
frontiers; settlement (kshetra) and forest (vana); physical boundaries within households and
neighbourhoods marking out and solidifying distinct identities, redefinitions of regional
areas, imaginations of linguistic communities, spaces of institutional authority etc.
The following themes could frame the concerns of this conference:
I. Connectivity and Mobility
This theme will question the methodological bias of studying social formations in fixed
locations. The boundaries demarcating spaces have persistently mutated, formalized or been
transgressed through practices of exchange, trade and travelling. Further, the world of
transcontinental empires in the past and globalization today have necessitated analysis of
mobile spaces, like ships, aircraft, railways etc., whereby a significant section of population
was perpetually moving or being circulated; e.g. the slaves, indentured labourers, lascars,
sailors etc. Further, states, have historically formalised boundaries and regulated mobility,
using instruments of tributes, tolls, tariffs, identity documents etc.
II. Conquest, Territory and Polity
Political power structure, be it ancient mahajanapadas, city states, empires or modern nation
states involved the conversion of land into territory through modalities of law, governance
and exercise of polity. Concepts such as that of the ‘frontier’ introduced by Turner and
explored by Jos Gommans have been integral to our understanding of processes of state
formation. Resultant issues of identity formation, relations of subordination and domination,
marginality, and how they manifest in spatial modifications, are ideas to be explored.
Understanding the ‘centre’ through the lens of the ‘periphery’; inter-regionality and inter-
cultural movements invoking aspects of permeability, could also be studied as aspects of state
formation and re-formation.
III. Producing Boundaries and Borderlands
The study of borders/boundaries/frontiers as imbricated in the production of space has seen a
remarkable proliferation in the last twenty years, both within and across disciplines such as
geography, history, politics, and sociology, as well as literary and cultural studies in many
regions of the world. Additionally, as Schimanski and Wolfe have argued the idea of the
border itself as a rigid legal or national identity has given way to new and more inclusive
views of borders.
IV. Space as a Resource
Physical space has historically been seen as a value and meaning producing resource:
examples would include pastures, cultivable land, mineral-rich land, water-bodies etc.
These factors determine social organization and the power hierarchies that emerge within a
space. Disputes over land, water bodies and forests often reflect those who aspire to land
for subsistence and those, particularly in the modern period, who impose the logic of
private property to expropriate natural resources.
V. Private and Public Spaces
The principle of the private and the public is a most ubiquitous one in the division of social
spaces, irrespective of the scale of social relations one is looking at. Questions of how power
dynamics in conjunction with affective relations work play out in the space of the home, the
liminal spaces between the private and the public, such as the neighbourhood, and the fluidity
of the concept of public-private boundaries within the private sphere and in the public are
important concerns. A closer analysis of the manufacturing of public space would include
studies related to the planning and segregation within cities and the corresponding question of
the right to the city, formation of ghettos, etc. The gendering of private and public domains
and its socio-cultural manifestations also provides significant avenues of study.
VI. Techniques of measuring and representing space
Many techniques and technologies have developed over time to represent space as Matthew
Edney and Ian Barrow have shown in their study of mapping The Eurocentric roots of the
modern, ‘scientific’ modes of mapping space, such as topographical surveys, triangulation,
cartography etc., and how they took over the local, peripheral and regional modes of
understanding space- for instance, in cosmological terms- are issues that lend themselves to
The creation of charbagh gardens by the Mughals in the medieval period is another example
of landscaping which drew upon a cosmological understanding of the worldly space. In the
modern period, the beautification drives undertaken during the emergency of 1975, are also
to be seen within the ambit of landscaping, through the technologies toeing the lines of the
modern and the scientific and as a means of consolidating political power.
VII. Built Environment
Discussions on architectural spaces or built environment span the often divided disciplines of
archaeology and history. Such built environments could include lived and/ or living
experiences centred around markets, bazaars, bastis, courts, factories, households, hospitals
etc. Stephen Legg’s study of Delhi and Veena Oldenburg’s history of Lucknow traced urban
imaginations of order, chaos and segregation in colonial cityscapes. Timothy Mitchell’s study
about the techno-politics surrounding the construction of the Aswan dam foregrounds the
story of global capital -- the networks of business interests and the circulation of capital, debt,
and disease in the founding of the national economy of modern Egypt.
The Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University invites applications from MPhil and PhD research scholars
to participate in the Annual Young Scholars’ Conference to be held in April 2019. The
conference titled ‘Historicizing Space’ will be held over three days from April 25 to 27, 2019
at JNU, New Delhi. Applicants are requested to submit an abstract (250 words) and a paper
(maximum limit of 3000 words) on the sub-themes outlined in the concept note.
Both the abstract and the paper for the conference should be sent in by March 1st, 2019 to the
following email address – firstname.lastname@example.org. Selected participants will be
informed by the second week of March 2019. The selection committee will comprise of a
team of research scholars and faculty at the centre.