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Centering the narrative around a lively, erudite and thoroughly enjoyable history of one family from Malwa in Central India which held substantial land and various administrative offices in the Mughal empire and negotiated over several generations with three regimes – the Mughals, the Marathas and the British, Dr Chatterjee assembles a living, breathing world through her book, Negotiating Mughal Law: A Family of Landlords across Three Indian Empires. It is a classic history from below, populated with real people and colourful individuals in both spectacular and everyday situations which tells a riveting story even as it opens up many important questions for scholars and students of Mughal history and historical scholarship more broadly.
In this episode of BIC Talks Dr. Prachi Deshpande talks to Dr. Nandini Chatterjee about the story of how she reconstructed a coherent archive to tell a micro-history of one family over such a long period of time and about it being a thought provoking meditation on the very nature of the historical archive.
Dr. Nandini Chatterjee is Lecturer in History at the University of Exeter. She is a historian of South Asia interested in the study of law in cultural context. She works on law and cultural exchanges in the British and Mughal empires – with particular attention to law, religion and family. Dr. Chatterjee’s first book was on the shaping of the minority religious community of Indian Christians, through legal, political, racial and theological contests over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
She then moved on to looking at law in the broader context of the British Empire, and especially at the role of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, erstwhile final court of appeal of the British empire, and a hub of legal, social and cultural interactions with empire-wide implications. From this research she grew interested in the role and place of Islamic law in the British Empire – including Anglo-Muhammadan law, eminent Muslim judges, and key cases involving either or both. In collaboration with Dr Charlotte Smith of Reading University, she have created an online catalogue of historic Privy Council papers.
Dr.Chatterjee’s second book is a rare micro-history of a landed lineage and their negotiation of the laws of the Mughal empire. Since then, she has written on people, cases and judges associated on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the highest court of appeal of the British Empire, and co-curated a public exhibition about this court, hosted by the court itself.
Subsequently, her interests have moved further back in time, and she has taken her curiosity about law back to the early modern Islamic and Persian-writing world. She is currently directing an international and collaborative five-year ERC-funded project on Persian and bi-lingual legal documents from India, Iran and the northern Indian Ocean. The project is called Forms of Law in the early modern Persianate World, 17th-19th centuries. As part of this project, her team is producing a free online repository of legal documents from India and the Indian Ocean, written in Persian and various Indian languages. This is an innovative digital humanities project that she hopes will produce a useful teaching and research tool, besides acknowledging and encouraging the work of family historians in South Asia.
Dr. Chatterjee is director of the Exeter Centre for South Asia and in the year 2020-21, joint chair of the History Decolonising Working Group at Exeter.
To read more about Dr.Chatterjee’s ongoing projects, see here.
Dr. Prachi Deshpande was trained in history at Fergusson College, Pune, and at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, before completing her Ph.D. at Tufts University in 2002. She then taught at several institutions in the US and received tenure at the University of California, Berkeley, before returning to India to take up her present position at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences in Kolkata, in 2010.
Dr. Deshpande’s research focuses on social and cultural history of historiography, language, and regional identities.
Deshpande has published scholarly works in English and Marathi. Her book Creative Pasts: Historical Memory and Identity in Western India, 1700-1960 (2007) examined the emergence of modern history-writing practices in the Marathi-speaking areas of western India, and the importance of historical memory in shaping an enduring Maharashtrian regional identity.
Dr. Deshpande’s essays and book chapters include, The Writerly Self: Discourses of Literate Practice in Early Modern Western India, in Indian Economic and Social History Review (2016), Scripting the Cultural History of Language: Modi in the Colonial Archive, in Partha Chatterjee, Tapati Guha-Thakurta and Bodhisattva Kar, eds. New Cultural Histories of India (2014), “Pasts in the Plural: A Review Essay on Bhalchandra Nemade’s Hindu: Jaganyaachi Samruddha Adagal”, in Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences (2010).