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Colonial Airmindedness: Views from British India

Monday 25 November 2019
Modern South Asia Seminars
Matthias de Vrieshof
Matthias de Vrieshof 3
2311 BZ Leiden
104 (Verbarium)

Modern South Asia Seminar and the Huizinga Instituut Working Group on Utopia and Social Dreaming in Connected and Entangled Perspective


Joppan George, “Colonial Airmindedness: Views from British India”

Please join us for the talk and the reception.

Dhan Gopal Mukerji's Gay-Neck, The Story of a Pigeon

“Colonial Airmindedness: Views from British India”

In the canonical Western historiography on airmindedness or air sense, much ink has been spilt on the spectacle of flight made available through literature, cinema, and radio. Air shows and aerial pageants became much-celebrated events wherein, at the price of an entrance ticket, the citizens had mass edification in airmindedness. In a progressive, utopian way, in the West, aviation was the consummate object of technological progress. In that the airminded citizenry demonstrated a “technically oriented form of patriotic ideology,” often, the optics of airmindedness was tinted in nationalist hues. This article provincializes airmindedness by shifting the focus on normative Western narratives that privileged the innovations in laboratories and the genius of airmen to listen to the colonial subjectivities’ awareness of aviatic practices. How did the political consciousness of the colonial subjects address their interest in, and articulate their grasp of, modernity’s emblematic high technology? This article charts the course of airmindedness and the birth of the aerial being in India through a reading of the counter-archive of historical romances, memoirs, radio broadcasts, phrasebooks, travelogues, hoaxes, and rumors to recuperate the colonial subjects’ self-fashioning of technological modernity. An aerial being in the interwar India, the article contends, was forged from proximate discursive, material, and experiential engagement with the colonial policies of aviation as much as by piloting and flying.

Joppan George is a postdoctoral fellow in the International Institute for Asian Studies, at Leiden University. He is working on a cultural history of British imperial ecology produced through aerial vision in the 1920s and 1930s. He earned a PhD in History from Princeton University in June 2019 for his dissertation Airborne Colony: Culture and Politics of Aviation in India, 1910-1939.

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