LECTURE: Vincent Brown, Charles Warren Profess or History and Professor of African-American Studies, Harvard University
Tacky's Revolt and the Coromantee Archipelago A New Cartography of Slave Revolt"
Thursday, January 30th, 4.15 PM, L01 Carson Hall
Montgomery Fellow, Fall 2006
Interview by Neal Sarkar ‘07
Romila Thapar is an Indian historian whose principal area of study is Ancient India. She received her doctorate from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University, in 1958. Later she served as Professor of Ancient Indian History at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, where she is now Emerita Professor of History. Professor Thapar’s works include Asoka and the Decline of the Mauryas (Oxford University Press, 1961), A History of India, vol. 1 (Penguin, 1966), Ancient Indian Social History: Some Interpretations (Orient Longman, 1984), and Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300 (University of California Press, 2003). Toward the end of Fall 2006 I had the chance to sit down and talk with Professor Thapar and ask her about her thoughts on Dartmouth College and her work.
What did you think about your experience at Dartmouth College?
Professor Thapar: I have enjoyed my experience here very much. Most of my experiences have been at very large universities usually in rather large cities. I spent time teaching at Berkeley, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Chicago, which are all located in large cities. I did spend some time at Smith College, which I found similar to Dartmouth. I like how Dartmouth feels like a very tight-knit community. You can walk to anywhere on campus, and everyone is very friendly. It is an ideal academic environment. There is peace and quiet so people can do their research, and there is a wealth of academic resources here. I had come to Dartmouth a couple of times to speak on this campus, and I loved it each time. I also have many friends in Boston and was easily able to take trips for a weekend here and there to see them. I feel this would be an incredible place to go to university.
What was your experience here like compared to teaching at an Indian university?
Professor Thapar: I actually found my students here very similar to my students at JNU. The student response was absolutely fantastic. In India I am used to teaching graduate students, which is one major difference. Therefore, in India my students were more focused on the theoretical basis. Also, Indian students have more familiarity with these topics as well. They have a solid basis in many of the things I am teaching while, for many of my students in America, this was the first time they were exposed to any of this material. For these reasons I was particularly impressed with the quality of work I got from my students here at Dartmouth.
You have now taught Ancient Indian History for many years. Do you see any differences between your students in the past and now?
Professor Thapar: I think students these days are much more aware of the effects of colonialism on all aspects of life. Today we are aware of various examples of when colonial powers tried to reconstruct the past of those they were ruling. Students are much more receptive to these ideas, which, when I started teaching, were just emerging. Back then we were just discovering how greatly colonialist powers had impacted the way we had learned history. Thus, when I was a student and when I first began to teach, students were definitely less receptive to many of these ideas than they are today
What are you currently working on?
Professor Thapar: I am working on pretty much exactly what I was teaching in my class: perceptions of the early Indian past. Teaching a class on the early Indian past has been good for me because, as I prepared for class, I also had a chance to think about what I would focus on and where I was heading with my research. I am doing my research on the transformation of a society based on chieftans into one based on kingdoms. I am also interested in looking at when the Indian past was reformulated, what are the sources that were used, and why. In creating a single tradition from many traditions, what sources did they use, and which ones did they omit?
What do you see yourself doing after your experience here at Dartmouth? Do you see yourself becoming a full-time professor again?
Professor Thapar: Well, I don’t see myself become a full-time professor again. Right now I am pretty much solely focused on completing my research and finishing my book. This project has occupied so much of my time; I haven’t really had the time to think about what I would do afterwards. I plan to spend at least some of my time traveling. After so many years of teaching it will be nice to see many places that I have not seen yet. Furthermore, I could see myself teaching perhaps for a semester at another school in a similar way to how I have taught at Dartmouth. I also plan on continuing to give lectures and am especially looking forward to lecturing about my new work.
Last Updated: 10/15/08