CFP: Centre for Historical Studies, JNU Annual Young Scholars' Conference, 2016, New Delhi

Sohini Chattopadhyay's picture
Call for Papers
December 10, 2015
Subject Fields: 
Geography, Political Science, Public Policy, Journalism and Media Studies

Constructing the Past – Disciplines, Sources and Methods

Annual Young Scholars' International Conference

18 - 20 February, 2016


Organised by

The History Association

Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University


The History Association cordially invites you to participate in the Annual Young Scholars’ International Conference to be held in February 2016. The conference titled ‘Constructing the Past: Disciplines, Sources and Methods’ will be held over three days from February 18 to 20, 2016 at JNU, New Delhi.

Constructing the past is often considered a process of rationally sifting through relevant sources in an attempt to find therein a true and full story of what really happened. Where the evidence is inadequate, it is believed that the past is available to us, for now, in fragments. Critical interrogations of both ‘construction’ and ‘past’ though allow us to think reflexively about our scholarship and the disciplinary boundaries within which we study them. It becomes crucial to think of constructing as informing all aspects of research. After all, we not only make decisions on what methods we employ in gathering and analysing evidence/data but also how different methods can produce multiple realities that make claims to the ‘true’ reality. Methodologies gain renewed importance in thinking about construction. We are forced to see if and how common-sense assumptions manifest as theoretical principles. In this conference, we call for papers from across disciplines that question and reflect on trends in contemporary social science scholarship on constructing the past. Papers that demonstrate how critical and reflexive research can perhaps change, or at the very least inflect, dominant understandings of the past are welcome. Subthemes include, but are not limited to the following:

1. Polity and Power Political formations have been a consistent subject of academic inquiry. How do we study the processes that go into the making and unmaking of a polity? What notions of past, present and future are mobilised to construct and sustain these formations? How does the state attempt to legitimize itself and maintain its dominance and hegemony? What are the material and non-material artefacts that could be used to understand the permeation of the state into the everyday? How are tools such as propaganda and policies deployed by the state apparatus? What kind of sources can we use to understand these processes? How do we look at these contestations within and outside the polity? What analytical tools can we use to study socio-political formations and mobilizations in resistance, negotiation and support of state power? 

2. Production and Exchange How do we analyze the relationship between production and social formations? How do we look at constructs of class? What are the ways in which foregrounding gender and caste help us rethink notions of class? How can objects, means, and sites of exchange be used as sources to understand the pasts of work, labour, trade and markets? What are the various sites of production, distribution and consumption? How does a focus on everyday practice allow us to think anew such sites? How do we understand relationships of production and exchange through property relations, land tenure systems and religious economies? How have histories of technologies helped shape our understanding economic pasts? Can dialogues with other disciplines throw light on questions of production and exchange that have not been addressed within particular disciplines?

3. Spaces and Geographies How does the introduction of space as both source and method within temporal narratives open up possibilities for new forms of researching the past? Through what analytical tools can we study the discursive, imaginative and territorial productions of hinterlands, frontiers and borders? How do we employ literary and oral traditions in understanding changing migration patterns and maritime networks which create new geographies? How does a historical approach to geographical categories such as rural, urban and region allow for studying existing social formations? How does studying climates, weather patterns and physicalspatial characteristics specific to places help us reconstruct the past? In what ways does a focus on waterscapes such as canals, rivers, islands help understand spatial histories? 

4. Significations of time Ideas of time are varied across cultures. Does time have a universal significance? How is this significance specific to our object of study and how do we think of these specificities? How is time constructed and organized in various disciplines? Can time-lines, stages and phases be considered coherent categories in thinking of processes and events? If so how is this coherence constructed? What constitutes a time frame (a period, an epoch, an age, a life-cycle) and what kinds of meanings and values are ascribed to a time frame (golden age, dark age, age of enlightenment, liberal phase)? What do material cultures and practices as analytical bases tell us about the construction of time? How do we understand constructions of now-ness and contemporaneity? How is the future imagined and what kinds of possibilities are ascribed to it? 

5. Selves, Identities and Bodies How do we map the processes of (re)constructions of self and identity? How do we think of corporeality of bodies in such constructions? What kinds of methods would allow us to study experiences and exchanges between the corporeal body and the material/sensory world? How do we see the processes through which gender, sexuality, caste, class, race and religion are inscribed on the body? What kinds of empirical footprints and traces do people, societies, communities and groups create as they understand and experience themselves? How do we use our sources to understand ‘experience’? What methods exist to understand perception, affect and emotion? How do we locate the construction of the ‘other’ in processes of self-making? Can we think of multiple selves and multiple ‘others’? How do ritual, routine and other forms of practice allow us to understand the ethical, moral and normative questions involved in the making of the self and the body? What might be the implications of histories of the self that cut across disciplinary boundaries?

6. Aesthetics and Media The study of aesthetics in constructing the past is haunted by the question of representation. Representation often pre-supposes a ‘true’ past which some forms supposedly represent better others. Such debates reproduce a simplistic dichotomy between form and content. Instead, is it possible to look at how form actively constitutes the content? How are narratives produced by paintings different from those produced in literary texts? How do aesthetic modes and genres inflect cultural production across different media such as painting, architecture, music etc.? How do questions of materiality and medium specificity define the content? What kinds of non-textual/non material sources can be used to construct the past? How does one map the realm of the sensory (image, sound, taste, smell)? Can disciplinary boundaries be refigured by thinking of the sensory as the source and method of inquiry?

Applicants are requested to submit an abstract of about 250 words and a paper of about 3000 words on any of, but not restricted to, the sub-themes outlined in the concept note. Papers that questions the limits and possibilities of sources/archives used and what archives bring to light and what they render invisible are welcome. We would also like papers that demonstrate through their use of sources and methods how new questions may be posed about the objects of our study

The abstract and the paper for the conference should be sent in by December 10, 2015 to the following email id – Selected participants will be informed by the first week of January 2016. The selection committee will comprise a team of the CHS faculty. 

For any queries, please write to us at