Judith M. Brown
Judith M. Brown, one of the leading historians of South Asia, provides an original and thought-provoking strategy for conducting and presenting historical research in her latest book, Windows into the Past. Brown looks at how varieties of “life history” that focus on the lives of institutions and families, as well as individuals, offer a broad and rich means of studying history. Her distinctively creative approach differs from traditional historical biography in that it explores a variety of “life histories” and shows us how they become invaluable windows into the past.
Following her introduction, “The Practice of History,” Brown opens windows on the history of South Asia. She begins with the life history of an educational institution, Balliol College, Oxford, and tracks the interrelationship between Britain and India through the lives of the British and Indian men who were educated there. She then demonstrates the significance of family life history, showing that by observing patterns of family life over several generations, it is possible to gain insight into the experiences of groups of people who rarely left historical documents about themselves, particularly South Asian women. Finally, Brown uses the life history of two prominent individuals, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, to examine questions about the nature of Indian nationalism and the emergent Indian state.
“Utilizing Balliol College records, personal photographs, life histories along with more traditional sources such as autobiographies and private papers, Judith Brown incisively explores multiple themes in the history of colonial and independent India. They range from the graduates of Balliol College who formed ‘dynasties’ within an imperial administration to how the iconic Indian leaders, Gandhi and Nehru, confronted public and private challenges while creating an Indian nation. Her fascinating narrative of family histories will stimulate both professional historians and popular audiences to reconsider how family histories can illuminate broader topics such as imperial dominance, nation-building and globalization. " — Barbara Ramusack, Charles Phelps Taft Professor, University of Cincinnati