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Author of the Month: Tim Keirn And Norbert Schürer (Eds.)

Published: January 17, 2012

British Encounters with India, 1750-1830: A Sourcebook

Edited by Tim Keirn, History and Liberal Studies; and Norbert Schürer, English

Published in October 2011 by Palgrave Macmillan, this 224-page collection of primary texts and images represents various facets of the cross-cultural interaction between India and Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries. The anthology suggests that for a brief period—while many Europeans were involved in projects of empire and colonialism in South Asia—some British tried to comprehend and appreciate India on its own terms and envisioned a convergence of cultures between the metropole and locality.

Keirn explained that the textually prolific 18th century had plenty to say about India, offering the CSULB scholars many genres to choose from. In addition, students in Keirn’s and Schürer’s team-taught interdisciplinary research seminar, supported by the College of Liberal Arts, helped excerpt and annotate materials for the anthology.

“There were contemporary histories and geographies. There were pamphlets and travel narratives,” Keirn said. “India found its ways into poetry, plays, newspapers and contemporary school books.” The idea and concept of encounters makes the texts relevant to the 21st century. “We live in an intensely globalized world today, but encounters have been occurring for many centuries. Perhaps we can learn the ways and means of coexistence from how cultures coming into contact in the 18th century negotiated their encounters,” he said. “Encounters is timely in light of an era of globalization and transnational engagement.”

Students were surprised when they read 18th- and early 19th-century newspapers published in Madras and Calcutta.

Author of the Month: Edited by Tim Keirn and Norbert Schürer

“The students were amazed at the ‘modernity’ of discussion and the type of information and materials available in Anglo-Indian newspapers,” he said. “For example, students were fascinated with a lengthy letter to the editor in the Calcutta Gazette that questioned the aesthetic beauty of the Taj Mahal and disparaged it as simply a ‘pile of marble.’ In the next edition a response was published defending the architectural magnificence of the Taj Mahal and advocating for non-European standards by which it ought to be judged. This exchange demonstrated that many of the British in India in the 1780s were cosmopolitan in outlook. They were comfortable living in a culture of difference. Of course, by the early 19th century, the criticism became more disparaging of India as the British distanced themselves from all things Indian and their cultural practices became more divergent.” Keirn, who joined the university in 1991, received his B.A. from UCLA and his M.Sc. Econ. from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Schürer earned his B.A. from the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin, his M.A. from Berlin’s Freie Universität, and his doctorate from Duke University. He joined the university in 2003.