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Honored Guests, Gifted Teachers

Montgomery Fellows leave lasting impact

Throughout the summer and fall terms of 2006, Dartmouth played host to two eminent representatives of Indian culture and scholarship: novelist Githa Hariharan and historian Romila Thapar. The two women, both natives of Delhi, came to the College as Montgomery Fellows. Hariharan and Thapar each devoted a full term to Dartmouth, teaching courses in their respective fields. The two courses formed a series, Reimagining India.

Githa Hariharan
Montgomery Fellow Githa Hariharan (right center) meets with students for a discussion in the Montgomery House. (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Hariharan is the author of four highly acclaimed novels, including her first, The Thousand Faces of Night, for which she was awarded the Commonwealth Writers Prize. She has also published several collections of short stories. The course she offered during the summer term, The Edges of Nation-Making: Perspectives on Modern Indian Literature, opened a window onto Indian literature as well as the subcontinent's social movements, issues of gender, caste, and national narrative.

Thapar is Professor Emerita in History at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and she is the author of the classic History of India, recently rewritten and republished under the title Early India. A leading scholar of ancient India, Thapar has taught at institutions around the world, including London University. Her fall term course was titled The Perception of the Past in Early India.

Classrooms were full for both courses—so full that students perched on windowsills and sat cross-legged on the floor for the opportunity to be there—and both Thapar and Hariharan speak admiringly of their students' dedication to the course material. "Students will always surprise you," says Hariharan. "There were a couple of texts that I thought they would find difficult. I put those texts in the curriculum with some hesitation, but those were precisely the ones the students seized upon."

Thapar calls her students "a quite interested and lively bunch." She remarks on their intellectual curiosity, and says she hopes they took from her class an "understanding that there is an expansiveness to historical analysis, that it becomes an attitude of mind that you must look to the past."

"I didn't want words like 'culture' to be used loosely. We have to define these words carefully and the students were enthusiastic about that," adds Hariharan.

Students are indeed enthusiastic about their experiences in the classroom with Hariharan and Thapar. Andy Chu '08 says of Thapar's class, "I enjoyed working with her. She was was responsive to our questions and generous with her time."

Chetan Mehta '08, who attended Hariharan's class, calls it a "one-of-a-kind opportunity," citing the rare chance to learn about a body of literature from "an individual involved in the modern literary movement in the country. The fact that we weren't 'interpreting' literature through someone else's eyes was appealing."

"When the late Kenneth F. Montgomery wrote in a letter to a friend in 1990 that the purpose of the endowment was to bring 'creative, distinguished people to Dartmouth,' he could have been describing the Montgomery Fellows in residence last summer and this fall," says Susan DeBevoise Wright, executive director of the Montgomery Endowment. "Professor Thapar is the distinguished historian of India, while Githa Hariharan is one of South Asia's most creative writers. Reimagining India has been an important program through its focus on a country in a region of the world little studied and understood in the United States. The perspectives of these dynamic teachers have helped us reimagine India."

By GENEVIEVE HAAS

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Last Updated: 5/30/08