ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Bourgeois Categories Made Global: Utopian and Actual Lives of Historical Documents in India

When the state acts as a mechanism that abstracts documents from their points of origin and make them into the signifiers of an abstract entity called "history", and the market performs this function of abstraction, we have the processes, respectively, of reification and commodification of documents. The process of creating "unfettered" access to historical information can be seen as the prying open of information that was otherwise accessible only to a "privileged" community. This is a tension that is central to the very idea of the public sphere: it can act simultaneously both as a utopia of "bourgeois" equality and as an ideology of domination. It can be simultaneously democratic and undemocratic. The agents and advocates of the public sphere are often the bearers of this tension for we never find a society where all its members, inspired by the social value of what we call "history", volunteer to convert willingly all "private" documents into "public" records. The rendering of private papers into public documents must remain, in the end, a political question. This paper illustrates this proposition by looking at a fragment of the history of history in colonial India in the 20th century. At the centre of the story is the historian Jadunath Sarkar who may be regarded as one of the earliest proponents in the subcontinent of the Rankean ideals of "scientific" history.

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