Ramnarayan S. Rawat

Wolf Humanities Center Regional Fellow

20182019 Forum on Stuff

Ramnarayan S. Rawat

Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Delaware

Ram Rawat is a historian of South Asia with research and teaching interests in colonialism and postcolonialism, racism and social exclusion, and liberalism and democracy. His research centers on Dalits of India and their engagement with nationalism, ethical and social questions of dignity and humiliation, and questions of right and representation. He recently co-edited Dalit Studies published by Duke University Press (2016). His first book, Reconsidering Untouchability (2011) was awarded Joseph Elder book prize awarded (2009) and an ‘Honorable Mention’ Bernard Cohn book prize (2013). He is currently completing a second book, ‘The Dalit Public Sphere: A New History of Indian Democracy,’ which highlights the role of Dalit groups in introducing innovative ideas and practices in the history of Indian democratic thought and practice. A major objective of his research is to bring rich vernacular Dalit histories into conversation with mainstream academic knowledge production to interrogate dominant assumptions about history and politics. 

Masala’ as Method: Dalit Household Archives and the Ordinary Lives of Historical Sources

In my fieldwork over the last twenty years, Dalit (former “untouchable”) activists have repeatedly referred to their household collections of Hindi language sources, chap-books, pamphlets, newspapers, and old photographs, as “masala” (मसाला; ingredients) or “material” (English) that would be useful for my research. This “masala”—present in the everyday spaces of Dalit living rooms, glass doored bookcases, and dusty trunks—occupies a vital position within the segregated and stigmatized Dalit neighborhoods in sustaining an ongoing political project to challenge caste hierarchies. My project explores the methodological innovations represented by this recent turn to “masala” in Indian historiography and the quotidian revolution it has enabled by shaping the new field of Dalit Studies and bringing to the forefront the persistence of caste inequality in modern India.