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The HCTS welcomes new guest fellow Prem Poddar
Prof. Prem Poddar from Roskilde University is conducting part of his research as a guest fellow at the HCTS chair of
Intellectual History, held by Prof.
Joachim Kurtz. Poddar is working on the implementation of a study on the border town of Kalimpong, situated in the Indian Himalayas. His study, tentatively titled ‘Chinese in India: A Reading of Foreigner Registration Files 1940s-1960s’, focuses on the mandatory registration of Chinese nationals prescribed by the British-Indian government at the beginning of the Second World War.
Kalimpong is located on the Ancient Tea Horse Road connecting China to India, near the frontier to the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Due to its sizeable Chinese migrant community as well as its strategic position and popularity among adventurers, during colonial times the town lent itself to the Alien Acts that were promulgated in different forms all over the British Empire. With the enforcement of the Foreigners Registration Act, officers in Kalimpong were faced with the challenge of setting Chinese people apart from merely ‘Chinese-looking’ individuals. To deal with the muddled multi-ethnicity of Kalimpong people, local registration officers developed a set of ‘Chinese characteristics’, or profiles, to assist in the identification process. This was to produce the matrix of a larger story of how the Indian Government framed the Chinese in India.
Through an examination of archival files from the Kalimpong Foreigner Registration Office and its Calcutta counterpart, Poddar intends to delineate how the category of the ‘Chinese national’ was construed over the span of 20 years, first by the British-Indian colonial state and then by the postcolonial Indian authorities. The results of his research will constitute the material for a chapter within the frame of a larger research project on the cultural politics of the Himalayas.
The HCTS chair of
Intellectual History is designed to add a transcultural dimension to the research on the history of ideas in various disciplinary fields. It focuses on how concepts, theories, and practices informing intellectual exchanges across cultures are reconfigured in global flows. To this end, it looks at processes of translation, diffusion, and appropriation and investigates how meanings are generated and transformed within and between different languages, cultures, regions, and milieus.
Prem Poddar is professor in Cultural Encounters at
Roskilde University (Denmark) and senior fellow at the
Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Berlin. He has taught in India, Britain, and Denmark and has authored several books. He is currently working on a project on the India-China interfaces. The conceptual categories of ‘state’ and ‘nation’ in the analysis of cultural representation constitute the core of his forthcoming work on the politics of the passport.