Babur [right] and Humayun with Courtiers (Detail), Late Shahjahan Period, ca. 1650.

Monday, April 18, 2011

New ideas regarding the Medieval History Club

Dear all,

We sure have got to a flying start and the response that the club has received so far has been extremely heartening. I was wondering how we can make the activities of the club more dynamic and interesting and, may be, also a bit more open to people who are not strictly interested in medieval studies, without hampering our own focus on the period.

These are a few points that came up while discussing the issue with some of my friends.

  • Visual sources:
So far we have only focused on literary sources. But we should keep in mind that sources can be visual as well. As such we need to toy with them as well.

1. We could screen ‘medieval films’ (films dealing with plots set in the medieval times, like Elizabeth, Mughal-e Azam, Rashomon etc.) regularly. There is no need to study beforehand for this. We all can just meet, watch a film and then discuss it. It will be spontaneous – how and why we liked the film, how the film creates its own ‘medieval world’, what are the visuals it uses that convinces us, the audience, that we are seeing a ‘medieval’ film etc.

2. We can study paintings. Paintings, as you know, are a major source for writing histories of the medieval times. A painting throws light on the social context of the times, ideologies expressed through it, how paintings, very much like texts, can be used to fabricate events and present them in the particular way that the patron prefers.

3. We can visit archaeological remnants, or when we cannot manage that, we can see architecture through photographs. Photographs of palaces, temples, mosques, mausoleums, forts etc. can help us understand different styles of architecture, various symbolisms in play, how architecture is used to project visions of power and ideology of the patron, among other things.

  • Literary sources:
We will, of course, continue our exercise of reading primary literary sources, as we have been doing in the past two sessions. Here again, we can invite scholars and young researchers who would not only discuss the area under discussion, but also show us how primary texts are read. This exercise we have been able to doin the last two sessions. We can read various types of documents -- political chronicles like AkbarnamaBaburnama, travelogues like the ones we have already read,religiousi texts like Meera Bai’s bhajans or Nizamuddin Auliya’s Fawaid ul-Fuad, among others. It would also be great if specialists would read and discuss in the club sessions selected portions of the texts like these. We could read with them.

There are some basic ways to deal with sources. These are some universal methods that every historian across ancient/medieval/modern has to learn. Hence workshops of reading visual and literary sources in the above way need not be confined to those specifically interested in the medieval. Thereby we can address a general audience, without losing focus of our medievalist concerns.

  • Finally, the format has to be closely-seated discussion-centric, as in the first three sessions, and not the classroom format, which circumstances pushed us into in the last session.

Please let us know what you think of the above proposals. If you have any suggestions/criticisms, please share them with us.


Olive Oyl said...

The ideas are quite nice and we can go forward with them one at a time. But I think the pace of the sessions/meets I think should remain the way as it is now.

Also, when the new first years will come, we'll have to float the idea amongst them. The sooner the better.

Pratyay said...

Agreed. The responsibility of mobilising the yet-to-come-first-years lie with you all, although I can come if need be.