NYU Abu Dhabi researcher builds digital archive that indexes rare and historical Indian texts from the 1800’s

Global Network Associate Professor of Political Science at NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) Rahul Sagar, has spent the past five years building a significant digital resource for the study of modern India.

Ideas of India is an index of the English-language periodicals that Indians began publishing after the advent of modern education in 1832. These periodicals served as the forum where statesmen and intellectuals formulated and debated the ideas that have shaped modern India.

Few of these periodicals remain in India where funding constraints and natural disasters have resulted in the loss of rare and precious archives. Consequently, the bulk of these periodicals are scattered across more than 120 libraries around the world, making it expensive and time consuming to consult them.

Aided by research grants from the US, Singapore, and NYU Abu Dhabi, Sagar employed research assistants around the world to collect and index the contents of these periodicals, making it significantly easier for scholars to pinpoint which periodical might be relevant to their research and to trace physical copies. Sagar says: “I have been driven by reverence for the men and women that worked tirelessly to realize India. We cannot allow their wisdom to turn to dust. I am now searching for a philanthropist to support the complete digitization of the contents of these periodicals, so that future generations will have free access to them.”

A decaying regional library in India” and the Current Thought Madras

 

The database, which contains over 300,000 items has been warmly welcomed by scholars.

University Professor at Ashoka University Pratap Bhanu Mehta says that the database “has the potential for transforming every field of inquiry on India because it exposes the teeming universe of thousands of Indians, whose reflections gave expression to an emerging new Indian self-consciousness.”

Celebrated historian of modern India Ramachandra Guha says: “The database is a true treasure-trove, that will be mined with love and zest by generations of scholars not just in India, but from across the world. What is striking is the astonishingly wide range of issues that Indians debated in these pages—politics, society, culture, international affairs, science, language, philosophy—and the depth and sophistication of their debates”.

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