AHA Member Spotlight: Ananya Chakravarti
Ananya Chakravarti is assistant professor of history at Georgetown University. She lives in Washington, DC, and has been a member since 2014.
Alma maters: AB (economics), Princeton University, 2005; PhD (history), University of Chicago, 2012
Fields of interest: early modern, South Asia, colonial Brazil, Portuguese empire, emotions
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? Circuitous! When I worked at the National Bureau of Economic Research after graduation, I became disillusioned with how politicians used economic knowledge arbitrarily and self-interestedly—even as the greatest economic crisis of our generation loomed. I switched to history almost randomly. My first archival trip to Brazil weirdly evoked memories of India. My first book, The Empire of Apostles: Religion, Accommodatio, and the Imagination of Empire in Early Modern Brazil and India (Oxford Univ. Press, 2018), on the role of Jesuit missionaries working in Brazil and India in forging a vision of empire, is the result of these happenstances.
What do you like the most about where you live and work? My deeply collegial department at Georgetown values teaching, research, and an ethical orientation to academic work equally. As a historian of empire, DC is the most fascinating place to observe a pivotal moment for the American global order.
What projects are you currently working on? My next monograph, supported by an AIIS fellowship, is a history of the Konkan coast of India, which has long connected the subcontinent to the world. I am beginning an archival preservation and community education project in my neighborhood of U Street, as well as two book projects that expand the geographical focus of emotions history beyond the west. Outside the academy, I am involved in creating a new community of academics, artists, activists, and entrepreneurs called RadicalxChange. RadicalxChange harnesses the emancipatory potential of insights from the field of mechanism design in dialog with other academic fields such as computer science, philosophy, and history, in order to imagine a new, egalitarian social order.
Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how? At the American University in Cairo, I learned the vital importance of the humanities in addressing current problems, and the need to give equal consideration to intellectual production in and from the global South in our politics of knowledge. With Hakem al-Rustom, I founded the Theory and Practice Workshop at AUC on those principles. At Georgetown, the breadth of the department further expanded my horizons. My conversations with Americanist colleagues like Maurice Jackson, Marcia Chatelain, and Katie Benton-Cohen nourished my nascent project in U Street. My Africanist colleague, Kate de Luna, and I are collaborating on emotions history.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research? Recently, I found some 18th-century Marathi letters from neighboring kings to the viceroy in Goa, that mention the return of African runaway slaves to Portuguese custody, accompanied by the king’s compliments and boxes of mangoes. They are suggestive of a forgotten history of slavery in the region. Given Georgetown’s focus on confronting the history of slavery, both here and elsewhere, these records are shaping an important aspect of my new book on the Konkan coast.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members? I just watched Bisbee ’17, for which my colleague Katie Benton-Cohen served as a historical advisor. The film is about a miner’s strike in 1917 in Bisbee, situated seven miles from the US-Mexican border. The strikers were violently rounded up and deported. The film tracks the ways in which the town comes to terms with its harrowing history during the Trump era. The movie is phenomenal, in part because it looks at and treats history and historical evidence in the way historians do. Highly recommended!
What do you value most about the history discipline? In India, historians are a bulwark against the tide of Hindu nationalism. Erasing the past is the first step to erasing minority communities and their political claims in the present. This erasure is what historians stand against. At Georgetown, my colleague Amy Leonard runs a new series for potential history majors called “Why History Matters,” where faculty members discuss current phenomena like #metoo and fake news. The series exemplifies the value of history in understanding the present.
Why is membership in the AHA important to you? I am proud to be a historian and to be part of the guild.
Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share? Walking around Chicago or New York in the bitter cold and overhearing snippets of conversations about history at every street corner—as if these huge cities are merely extensions of the AHA!
AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.
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