Organized Panel Session
This panel explores how moments of historical failure and forgotten futures constitute transformative methodological opportunities for scholars of South Asia. Expanding upon recent scholarship that recovered forgotten “imaginary futures” (Manu Goswami 2012: 1463), our panel argues that attention to historical failures and unrealized, yet anticipated, futures unsettles historiographical oversights and received narratives of success in modern South Asia. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, our papers follow specific economic, technological, political, and literary projects in South Asia during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that were overshadowed or ultimately unsuccessful, but still reveal alternative imagined futures. Building on Thomas Mullaney’s call for histories that examine the “intensity” of “short-lived successes, and outright failures” (Mullaney 2017: 26), we consider the methodological utility of ‘failure’ as an analytical category. In the first paper, Leslie Hempson explores how a failed project to standardize an alternative system of weights and measures for Indian cloth producers in the 1930s reveals the utility of ‘failure’ for rethinking assumptions in economic history. Shifting to the history of technology, Andrew Amstutz illustrates how the ‘failure’ to create movable type for Urdu’s calligraphic script shaped Indian Muslim cultural imaginaries in the twentieth century. Looking at literature, Nicolas Roth examines the relationship of a historic decline of realism and local specificity in early Urdu poetry to the failure in literary historiography to do justice to the queer subject matter in these works. Finally, Mou Banerjee reassesses the idea of the nation in Indian historiography through ignored Bengali Muslim novels that challenged dominant imaginaries.