History Department
History Department

Sumit Guha invited to deliver Plenary Keynote at European Association for South Asian Studies conf. in Warsaw

Thu, August 11, 2016
Sumit Guha invited to deliver Plenary Keynote at European Association for South Asian Studies conf. in Warsaw
Prof. Sumit Guha keynoting ECSAS 2016

Sumit Guha, Frances Higginbotham Nalle Centennial Professors in History, delivered the Plenary Keynote address on July 28, 2016, at the European Association for South Asian Studies (ECSAS) biennial conference in Warsaw, marking the 50th anniversary of the Association's founding. The title of his lecture was "Asia, Europe and America in the Making of 'Caste.’"

“My presentation looked at the long history of what is often thought of as Southern Asia’s ‘peculiar institution’, caste, in the longue durée and across world history,” explained Prof. Guha. “It focused especially on the first age of globalization, which was inaugurated by the Iberian voyages from the late fifteenth century. This intensified already ancient processes in which marked and bounded social entities (including castes), collided with each other in the course of political, economic, and environmental upheavals. The boundaries and membership of these entities could not remain unaffected. Furthermore, states – indeed colonial empires, grew in durability, size and reach through the past half-millennium.”

Professor Guha outlined how these processes helped to shape the working and conceptualization of caste, and argued that an adequate understanding of South Asian society requires us not only to bring the state back into its social history; it must bring non-Hindus back in, too. "Otherwise," he continued, "we not only risk historical error but also encourage a politics that sees non-Hindus as alien to Indian society."

In conclusion, he argued for the continuing value of historical and Indological skills for an understanding of the present and the past.

Prof. Guha also served as Discussant on a panel at ECSAS the following day on “Persistent hierarchies? Caste today.” The panel, convened by Sarbani Bandyopadhyay of Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, and Kenneth Bo Nielsen of the University of Bergen, interrogated the contemporary workings of caste, and the context-specific practices and ideas associated with it.

ECSAS 2016 was the 24th conference of the European Association for South Asian Studies. Held in Poland for the first time, the conference was co-organized by the Polish Oriental Society (PTO) and the University of Warsaw. Read more at:

Professor Guha will be a Research Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Historical studies in 2016-17, and will present a workshop entitled "Habitat and Habitus: Woodland Peoples in an Agrarian Society," on November 14. Event information available at: liberalarts.utexas.edu/historicalstudies/events/41145.

Related: Read feature stories by Prof. Sumit Guha, on Not Even Past:

Glimpsed in the Archive and Known no More: One Indian Slave’s Tale | February 11, 2015

Beyond Caste: Identity and Power in South Asia | February 1, 2015

Reading suggestions about Caste and South Asia | February 1, 2015

Giving a life, winning a patrimony | October 22, 2014

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