Finding a Home for Urdu: Islam and Science in Modern South Asia

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"Finding a Home for Urdu: Islam and Science in Modern South Asia" follows the Anjuman-i Taraqqī-yi Urdu (Association for the Advancement of Urdu), an Urdu literary and promotional association with branches across South Asia that comprised hundreds of Muslim intellectuals, writers, and small-town science enthusiasts in the first half of the twentieth century (1903-1961.) Urdu is a North Indian vernacular language that is written in the Perso-Arabic script and historically associated with Muslim elites. The decline of British colonial power and the rise of mass nationalism in India in the early twentieth century posed challenges for Muslims who constituted a minority spread across the Indian subcontinent. In response, Muslim intellectuals in the Anjuman-i Taraqqī-yi Urdu (henceforth, the Anjuman) transformed Urdu into a medium of integrative scientific knowledge dealing with medicine, urban commerce, type, and naturalist observation that could connect different social classes and regions across South Asia. Urdu has largely been studied in North India as a language of courtly poetry. In contrast, "Finding a Home for Urdu" rethinks not only what Urdu constituted in modern South Asian history, but where Urdu’s history is found. The Anjuman sought to expand Urdu’s frontiers beyond North India in southern India, eastern Bengal (now Bangladesh), and Sindh (now in Pakistan) in the late colonial and early postcolonial eras by advancing Urdu as a connective and urbane language of scientific knowledge. This dissertation connects virtually unstudied multilingual archives across the borders of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh to offer a new take on the making of Muslim politics in South Asia and to expand understandings of trans-local collectives of belonging that emerged alongside Hindi and Urdu nationalisms. Broadly, this study contributes to scholarly understandings of South Asian Islam across the early modern and modern eras, the history of science in colonial societies, and comparative Muslim modernities.

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History; History of Science; Islam; Language Politics; Modern South Asia; Muslim Cosmopolitanism; Urdu; Islamic studies; South Asian studies


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Union Local


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Ghosh, Durba

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Travers, Robert
Blackburn, Anne

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Ph. D., History

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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