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DFG Project - “A Sonic Approach to Anti-Colonialism in India”


Image: ´Gandhi spricht zu den Bewohnern des Dorfes Aat`, from Walter Bosshard, Indien Kämpft! Stuttgart, 1931

Kama Maclean's project aims to apply the methods of Sound Studies to a study of the history of anticolonialism in India. Extending on her earlier work, which draws extensively on visual archives to construct historical narratives, this project aims to explicitly trace the reverberations of sound - especially mediated speech, slogans and songs - in anticolonial mobilisation in the interwar period. Orality was a critical element of political communication, which, partly due to the difficulties in capturing the spoken word, has not yet been studied in detail. Yet the archives are full of sound.

The deeply affective qualities inherent in sounds, and the growth of technologies to amplify and record them in the period under investigation, renders this a rich approach to understanding anticolonial politics beyond the widely-acknowledged constraints of the colonial archive. The key objectives are to locate sonic traces in the archive, drawing on audio recordings, texts, visual and oral histories to discern their impact; to develop an understanding of the potency of sounds in creating communities and communicating nationalist messages, while evading censorship; and to trace the impact of early recording and sound projection technologies on nationalist mobilisation, to demonstrate how such technologies disrupted prevailing soundscapes and shifted political dynamics, in the context of the civil disobedience movement.

An overview of the project is sketched out in her presentation to the Department of History Colloquium in October 2020, which can be seen here:

Since 2020, Professor Maclean has developed a project to focus on the introduction and use of sound technology, specifically public address equipment in the late 1920s. Talks on this topic were the focus of her Inaugural Lecture at the University of Heidelberg, as well as presentations at CeMIS, the German Historical Institute in London in February 2023, and for the British Association for South Asian Studies (BASAS) Annual Lecture 2023, held in cooperation with the Centre for South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge.

The project is divided into three elements, which study the use of songs, slogans and speeches in mass politics of the period. The DFG has funded two PhD Positions as part of the project. The PhD positions are intended to focus on the various ways in which songs and slogans were utilized in anticolonial contexts during this period. Applicants are encouraged to indicate how they might interpret and apply this challenge in their research.

A call for applications can be found here.


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