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  • January 28, 2017

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  • Humanities and Social Sciences

Manufacturing the Marvels and Wonders of “Hindoostan” in the Gilded Age: The 1893 Chicago Exposition and The Parliament of Religions

Abstract: Theorizations of the postcolonial have been heavily influenced by the Subaltern Studies Project in the 1980s and the 1990s. After revisions in Indian historiography were made by Ranajit Guha from the late 1970s, especially with his focus on the “politics of the people”, Subaltern Studies was joined to the concerns of Postcolonial Studies. This newly merged stream with its emphases on discourse analyses and cultural studies oriented methodologies began to ignore or sideline the original concerns of Ranajit Guha’s focus on the history of Indian nationalism. Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978), a foundational text for postcolonial studies, has often been used to explain cultural encounters where colonized peoples were subject to disciplinary formations of knowledge that were formulated by westerners. Said’s idea that colonizers’ knowledge of the East was not innocent, because it was related to the hegemonic status of those who produced it, has often used by scholars to write about “postcolonial” India. In the rush to talk about the postcolonial condition, scholars have often left aside the way cultural politics of late 19th century American institutions helped construct “Hindoostan” through an institutionalized tourist gaze. This paper takes up the cultural politics of the 1893 Exposition and the World’s Parliament of Religions (held in Chicago) to show how “Hindoostan” was understood as a “nation” through the eyes of Euro-American tourists. “Hindoostan” became a metonymic substitute for a state of static, non-evolutionary presence whose characteristics could be understood after being subject to the collective Euro-American tourist gaze. This paper argues that such a focus is crucial to understanding the post-independence shift in India’s image from an erstwhile Third World nation to a global trading partner.