Tag Archives: workshops

Bombay Time: Power, Public Culture & Identity

Towards New Histories of Mumbai, 6-7 January 2017, Department of History, University of Mumbai
Towards New Histories of Mumbai, 6-7 January 2017, Department of History, University of Mumbai

As a tribute to our friend and mentor Professor Jim Masselos, the Department of History at the University of Mumbai, the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), University of London and the University of Leicester have been hosting a conclave of historians, scholars and researchers of the the city at the Vidyanagari Campus of Mumbai University on Friday 6 to Saturday 7 January 2017. Click here to download my presentation (PDF) on “Bombay Time: Turning Back the Clock, 1870-1955″.

The completion of global networks of railways, telegraphs and steamships across British India and globally in the 1870­-1880s made possible the coordination of time signals across these lines of communication and transport, as observatories electrically transmitted the precise longitudinal time simultaneously from cities such as Madras and Bombay to their expanding territorial and maritime frontiers. However, the proposal to standardise time-keeping in cities confronted a multitude of visible and audible temporal signs in the urban environment – public clocks, factory sirens, office shifts, railway timetables, sunlight and sunset – as well as across the vast subcontinent, where local solar times varied by more than an hour between Calcutta in the east and Karachi in the west.

Despite repeated attempts to secure uniformity by colonial scientists and the state, a patchwork of temporal standards in colonial India resulted from rivalries between scientists, port, railway and municipal authorities, and persistent defiance of these standards by religious and civic leaders, traders, and the urban public. “Railway Time” or “Mean Time” on the longitude of the Madras Observatory – fixed on the completion of the trans-continental railway link with Bombay in the 1870s – encountered stiff public resistance in Bombay, for whom the new standard was more than 30 minutes ahead of local solar time, or “Bombay Time”, and was hastily withdrawn.

The introduction of “Indian Standard Time” (IST) amidst Lokmanya Tilak’s arrest and trial and the “Swadeshi” agitations in 1905-06 prompted further protest, from the stoning of public clock-towers to strikes by office employees and factory workers, as the state attempted to “turn back the clock” by more than half an hour. Thereafter, “Bombay Time” was observed in the city as an insignia of native difference and everyday resistance, as the “annihilation of space by time” was reversed in the spatial arenas of urban temporality. For Indian workers and office employees, “Bombay Time” could turn up later at work; native bankers and brokers could remain open for trading later than European commercial banks; and local philanthropists and municipal leaders sponsored public clocks at variance with official IST.

My paper revisits Jim Masselos’s essay “Bombay Time” (Meera Kosambi, ed., Intersections: Socio-Cultural Trends in Maharashtra, Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 2000, pp.161–83), seeking to complement and deepen Masselos’s pioneering research into the standardisation of clock time in the colonial city. My paper will explore how “Bombay Time” dramatised the social construction and moral economy of time, extending Masselos’s original insights on the transformation of urban life in the context of technological change with new material from the municipal and state archives, and up to the demise of “Bombay Time” during World War II and after Independence.

Open Historical Maps: Crowdsourcing, Open Source GIS, and the Research Web

Talk and presentation with Schuyler Erle to the ABCD GIS Seminar Series, Harvard University, 15 April 2009.

Our presentation will show how open source GIS and curated “crowdsourcing” can create an infinite archive of places for digital historians and ethnographers. While the importance of space and place to their research has long been acknowledged by social scientists, there remains a wide gap between their theoretical concerns and the data-driven empiricism of GIS. For those without technical or database skills, maps and geodata are mostly commonly to illustrate rather than advance an argument. However the web can render the tacit knowledge of geography implicit in most historical and ethographic narratives available to the scholars in entirely new forms. We will showcase our ongoing work with the Maps Division of the New York Public Library on a web-based Map Rectifier and Digitizer, a platform for scholars and entusiasts to georeference scanned historical maps and digitize historical features of cities and the environment.

SHEKHAR KRISHNAN is a researcher and activist pursuing his doctorate in History and Anthropology of Science Technology & Society (STS) at MIT, where his research on the history of technology and the urban environment in colonial Bombay and western India. He has been a project fellow with Zotero at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. With Schuyler Erle, he manages geo-spatial web projects for the New York Public Library and the Network in Canadian History of the Environment (NiCHE)

SCHUYLER ERLE has been a free and open source software developer, project leader, and evangelist for over a decade. He is a co-author of Mapping Hacks and Google Maps Hacks, both published by O’Reilly Media. He currently lives in New York City, where he leads EntropyFree, a technology consultancy focused on geographic information systems (GIS), natural language processing, academic computing and humanitarian aid.

The Crisis of the Database

My friend Manan Ahmed at the University of Chicago is co-organising a panel on digital archiving in South Asia at the Annual Conference on South Asia hosted at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. I haven’t been to the conference in three years, and Manan was kind enough to ask me to present something about my work with digital archiving and mapping, though I only just gave him my abstract for my presentation on The Crisis of the Database: Independent Research and Pedagogy in India Before and After the Digital Revolution.

This presentation will examine the recent history of networked research and pedagogic practice by voluntary initiatives, academic organisations and freelance researchers in India, and consider their consequences for organised scholarship in the humanities and social sciences of South Asia.

Over the past five years, the research landscape in India presents a strange paradox. At the moment when new technologies have enabled the emergence of vibrant new spaces such as mailing lists, blogs and wikis, and a remarkable vitality is shown by the formation of new collectives of researchers, media practitioners, and activists, higher education and university research has been sufffered institutional crisis and precipitous decline in India. While previously isolated communities of independent researchers have become increasingly connected, and new technologies promise to lower the barriers to online pedagogy and collaborative research, the response of traditional academic institutions to these changes have been primarily defensive.

Continue reading The Crisis of the Database

Geographies of Resistance: Urban Housing in Mumbai

Presented at the Roundtable on Asian Cities and Cultural Change at the Australian National University (ANU), Canberra, July 2005.

The past twenty years have witnessed the decisive end of attempts at state-centred urban planning in Mumbai. The post-Independence Development Plan, which has guided land, housing, and economic growth since the sixties, has been displaced in favour of piecemeal investments in infrastructure and transport, and housing and slum rehabilitation by the state, with increased participation from private builders and agencies.

With the retreat of the state from its ambitious agendas of rational land-use, equitable distribution of services and resources, and protection of the environment, the instruments of abstract spatial planning used by the state have withered and mutated into new urban forms marked by severe exclusions and enclosures. Classical urban planning practice was historically premised on the segregation of the functions of modern urban life into residential, commercial/industrial, and public spheres, and their centralised location governed by state directives.

However, Asian cities have constantly demonstrate the falsity of this separation of functions — with their vast districts of dense, mixed-use settlements governed by porous legalities, popular politics, and tactical negotiations over space and survival. This vast and complex economy has been inadequately imagined as the Third World ‘slum’ or theorised as the ‘informal economy’. With the retreat of the state, centralised planning practice and its technocratic spatial imagination has been appropriated into a new spatial regime in which a predatory class of private builders dominates the production of formal housing for a minority of the rich, amidst rising inequality in access to housing and basic services for the majority of the urban poor in Mumbai [1].

Continue reading Geographies of Resistance: Urban Housing in Mumbai

PUKAR Monsoon Doc-Shop

Originally published in Humanscape special issue on Learning Beyond Teaching, edited by Shilpa Phadke, August 2003.

It is a well-known cliche that today, all of us deal with information in much greater abundance and intensity than ever before. The Internet, the sign of this new economy, is a huge repository of information, with signs, images and stories flowing through its ever expanding networks. Any creative and critical engagement today also means learning to deal with such enormous archives and flows of information, and understanding how they are created. While on the one hand the world around us is increasingly mediated by new technologies and media forms that shape our perceptions acutely, on the other hand most of us do not have access to these technologies, nor are we encouraged to shape the mediated reality around us.

Any critical pedagogy today must address these questions, raised by the advent of new media practices, and the increasing importance of information and communication technologies to our everyday lives, especially in cities in India. The response of mainstream educational institutions has been primarily defensive, to shore up their role against a weakening state and an aggressive market — with the introduction of new diploma courses and degree programmes catered for lucrative careers in the corporate media, such as the Bachelors of Mass Media (BMM) courses in Mumbai. The responses from individual teachers and scholars, media producers and activists, and other groups and organisations is still being debated.

Continue reading PUKAR Monsoon Doc-Shop

The Urban Turn

This is a transcript of symposium on urban history held in December 2002 with historians and sociologists Gyan Prakash, Jairus Banaji, Sujata Patel and Rajnarayan Chandavarkar. You can also download the PDF of the transcript.

This symposium was organised by PUKAR (Partners for Urban Knowledge Action & Research) at the Bombay Paperie, Mumbai. Thanks to Shonali Sarda for transcription and Neeta Premchand for hosting the event.

GYAN PRAKASH is Professor of History at Princeton University, U.S.A. and a member of the Subaltern Studies Editorial Collective. He is the author of Bonded Histories: Genealogies of Labour Servitude in Colonial India (Cambridge, 1990), Another Reason: Science and the Imagination of Modern India (Princeton, 1999), and has written several articles and edited several volumes on colonial history and historiography.

JAIRUS BANAJI is a historian and independent scholar based in Mumbai. He worked with unions in Bombay through the eighties, when he published, with Rohini Hensman, Beyond Multinationalism: Management Policy and Bargaining Relationships in International Companies (Delhi: Sage, 1990). His most recent book is Agrarian Change in Late Antiquity: Gold, Labour, and Aristocratic Dominance (Oxford, 2002).

SUJATA PATEL is Professor and Head of the Department of Sociology at University of Pune. She is the co-editor, with Alice Thorner, of Bombay: Metaphor for Modern Culture and Bombay: Mosaic of Modern India (both Delhi: Oxford India, 1995), and, with Jim Masselos, of Bombay and Mumbai: The City in Transition (Delhi: Oxford India, 2003).

RAJ CHANDAVARKAR is a historian and is Director of the Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge University, U.K., where he is a Fellow of Trinity College. He is the author of The Origins of Industrial Capitalism in India: Business Strategies and the Working Class in Bombay 1900-1940 (Cambridge, 1994) and Imperial Power and Popular Politics: Class, Resistance and the State in India 1850-1890 (Cambridge, 1998).

“The Urban Turn” (December 2002)

SHEKHAR KRISHNAN: Welcome everyone, on behalf of PUKAR. The panel discussion at The Bombay Paperie tonight is called “The Urban Turn”, which signifies many different things to many different people. What we wanted to do tonight was to honour the people who are sitting here, four distinguished historians and sociologists who have worked on Bombay in one aspect or the other. Continue reading The Urban Turn

Workers’ Rights and Labour Law

Click here to download PDF of Workers Rights and Labour Law (India Centre for Human Rights & Law, 1999).

Workers Rights and Labour Law: A Backgrounder for the Workshop on Labour was compiled and edited with the help of Jairus Banaji and the Trade Union Solidarity Committee (TUSC) in Mumbai in 1999. It was published for the National Conference on Human Rights, Social Movements, Globalisation and the Law held at Panchagani, Maharashtra in December 1999 by the India Centre for Human Rights and Law, Mumbai.