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Volume 2, Issue 1: Contents


An interview with Amitav Ghosh
in response to our roundtable on Sea of Poppies

  History of the Present: Do you find a tension between the critical historical work involved in Sea of Poppies and the writing of fiction? How does one feed into the other?
Amitav Ghosh: I have the greatest respect for the work that historians do and I read their books and monographs with avid interest. But I don't really see a conflict or tension between my own work and theirs because even when we use the same materials, our points of entry are very far apart.
     At the risk of making too sweeping a claim, I would say that the principal reason why storytellers turn to the past is because history is replete with compelling human predicaments. Take William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: what transpired in ancient Rome is no more the central concern . . .

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ROUNDTABLE: Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies
Amitav Ghosh's World History from Below
Antoinette Burton
Capital at Sea, Shaitan below Decks? A Note on Global Narratives, Narrow Spaces, and the Limits of Experience
Ravi Ahuja
Cross-Dressing the Rose: Sly Allegory in Sea of Poppies
Kathleen Davis


The Human Shore: Postcolonial Studies in an Age of Natural Science

  In the Winter 2009 issue of Critical Inquiry, Dipesh Chakrabarty published an essay entitled “The Climate of History: Four Theses.” Widely known as one of the leading postcolonial theorists of his generation, Chakrabarty has earned his reputation over the past two decades by consistently contesting the authority and explanatory power of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment philosophies of history, particularly those Hegelian-inspired forms of historical thinking predicated on the progressive, teleological unfolding of a singular, universal history. It comes as no immediate surprise, then, that in his Critical Inquiry essay, Chakrabarty is as much concerned with a historiographic question as he is with a historical problem. And that is because, he argues, “the current planetary crisis of climate change or global warming,” has both effected and demands a collapse of the long-standing division between human and natural history.



Chanakya/Kautilya: History, Philosophy, Theater, and the Twentieth-century Political

  This essay is part of ongoing work on possible histories of our political present, written from the perspective of colonial/postcolonial Bengal. Here I explore the twentieth-century recasting, not entirely successful, of Chanakya as the figure of the quintessential political man of India. Chanakya, also known as Kautilya and Vishnugupta, was an ancient Indian political figure. He is believed to be the author of the Arthashastra (The science of wealth and governance), an early Indian treatise on statecraft. He is also believed to have been the legendary Brahman minister of King Chandragupta Maurya (340-293 BCE) and the real brain behind the overthrow of the then-ruling dynasty of the Nandas and the establishment of the Mauryan empire, the earliest imperial formation in Indian history.



Thinking about Ikhtilâf: The Political Construction of Difference in the Islamic Context

  This is an inquiry into the question of difference, of the right to difference in Islamic societies. How is difference treated or engaged there? What are the terms of this debate in Islam? I want to argue that a reflection focusing on the concept of ikhtilâf would be illuminating and enriching in a number of ways. Ikhtilâf is an endogenous concept of wide-ranging and diverse significance, and it engages issues that are at once political, juridical, religious, cultural, ethnic, and social.



Intervention: "The Way We Read Now"

  In literary studies—English literature in particular—there is something like a groundswell of support for new ways of reading. These new practices bring Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's call for "reparative reading" together with "surface reading" as formulated by a 2009 issue of Representations. This seems like good news: no critical practice can maintain its vitality without continually questioning its theories of reading. On a closer look, however, it turns out that these "new" ways of reading rely on rather familiar indictments of the practice of critique. What is noteworthy, perhaps, is that the very sources of the indictments are not honed opponents of theory but, rather, former fellow travelers.




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History of the Present is a peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal, with issues appearing in the fall and spring.
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