Professor Manish Chalana recently returned from field work in India. He was supported by the Senior Research Fellowship from the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) in 2014 to work on developing a book length manuscript on the history, theory and practice of historic preservation in India from the British Colonial up to the present times. Read on below to learn about his field research and plans going forward.
The full scope of the project involves tracing the history of historic preservation in India, elucidating the major themes within that history, considering issues of memory and its role in colonialism, nationalism, and regionalism, exploring the relationships between Indian preservation practice and international preservation communities, and addressing how the expanding mandate of historic preservation globally and its increasing integration with community planning have played out in India. The methods rely heavily on archival research and case studies selected from around India to illustrate these themes.
I began work on the Fellowship in October 2014 out of Delhi with an affiliation with the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA). I am an alumnus from SPA so it made it easier to connect with faculty and re-familiarize myself with the resources and the work that the Department of Architectural Conservation has been doing with regard to historic preservation. I co-taught the advanced thesis studio for the final year Masters in Architectural Conservation Student, which allowed me time to interact with students and reflect on the changing historic preservation practice in the country. At SPA I worked directly with Professor Nalini Thakurm who’s the grand dame of preservation in India. Much of the 5-months that I spent there were based in Delhi where I spent considerable time sifting through relevant materials in the National Archives and other libraries in the city. I conducted weekly fieldtrips in Delhi to sites that I plan to engage in my book. In addition I visited Goa to focus mostly on the vernacular neighborhoods that are not valued as heritage and remain vulnerable to redevelopment projects as Goa’s tourism boom is impacting both its natural and cultural environments.
I also traveled on the historic routings of the Grand Trunk Road from Delhi to Amritsar to understand how a linear cultural resource was being managed. Having completed the first of the two chunks of time on the Fellowship, I now have a better sense of the themes I would be engaging in my work, but a lot remains to be done! I am currently writing my book proposal to obtain a contract from an academic press and plan to head back to India for the remaining months on the grant in winter 2016.