2000 Student-Faculty Fellows: Missouri Southern State University

India: Preserving an Indian Princely State’s Past: An Oral History of Hyderabad, 1940-1955

Mentor: Karl Joseph Schmidt, Department of History
Student: Erin Dale Sellers, ’02, Mass Communication

Erin Dale Sellers

This opportunity will no doubt be invaluable to my future aspirations of a job in global journalism. I will at least have an idea what it is like to try to obtain information across huge cultural, social and economical ravines. I will be able to better prepare myself for the next time I interview a person from another culture. It gave me a new appreciation for understanding another person’s culture. Having a better grasp on Indian culture I found myself actually finding out more about my own culture. As becoming a member of the Peace Corp has been my tentative post college goal, I feel this trip and experience has heightened my interest in pursuing that goal and working closely with people from a developing country.

This trip has been invaluable as far as my research goes and the hands-on global journalism experience it gave me, but I feel that the trip was most valuable in the aspect of expanding my personal worldview and how I am affected by becoming more enlightened to cross-cultural exchanges.

Prof. Karl Joseph Schmidt

Without overstatement, I thought our research visit to India was a resounding success. To be sure, there were a few problems, as there usually are in visiting India, but these were minor compared with the work we were both able to accomplish during our stay.

Although I have been to India many times, this trip was Erin’s first time visiting a developing country. She was surprised by much of what she saw, but adapted quickly to her surroundings and soon began to take the initiative in developing her own program of study with only occasional guidance. I was pleased by the work she did, and also by the level of maturity she displayed, even in dealing with the inevitable frustrations involved in undertaking her work, such as being unable to contact people for several days (answering machines are a rare item in India), problems with transportation (cars not showing up on time), and a few language barriers. The impact of the trip on my professional development was equally significant. I was able to make good academic contacts while there, and solidify some I had made previously. My interactions with Prof. Aloka Parasher-Sen, Head of the Department of History at the university, were very helpful and we worked out some of the details of our research, a process made much easier and better through face-to-face discussions. The impact of the trip on my teaching will be equally profound. I was able to collect many teaching materials in Hyderabad, both due to the advantage of being in-country, but most especially because of the generous support of the portion of the ASIANetwork grant devoted to the purchase of books and other teaching materials. While in India, I also took more than 20 rolls of slide film and will be able to use those slides to great advantage in illustrating the two courses I teach on Indian history.

Research Findings

The three primary colors defining politics, gender, and nostalgia revealed by the subjects create a multi-dimensional portrait of history. The sense of longing for the past evident in the interviews could possibly show a lack of clear identity the subjects might be experiencing. While they are very much in the present, their hearts are in the past. The past represents a sense of heritage, a sense of belonging that they do not find in today’s society. The past represents stability; the thing they know, and because “the known,” no matter how turmoil-filled is always preferred to the uncertainty of the “unknown”. This generation may be India’s new dispossessed. They are still part of the old, unable to adjust to the new.

Another possibility for the fondness of the past on the part of the subjects is that memories, by nature, are always tainted. One cannot assume that the oral narratives will stand alone as the primary portrait of the past, but they will help to give depth to the historical documents and archives that form the foundation of “history.”

Whatever biases are present, whatever tainting of the “true picture” these narratives may reveal, their relevance cannot be ignored. By juxtaposing these narratives with the “concrete evidence” and analyzing the results, the true portrait will be painted. The history is merely the canvas; these memories provide the color.

Venues for Sharing

We have made plans to share the information obtained from the trip in two ways: through on-campus talks to both students and faculty: The Faculty Brown Bag Lunch and a special meeting of the Honors Club. We will upload her research project to the World Wide Web for others to read and use.