‘The End of History’ in ‘their’ sights? CHS M.Phil./PhD Admissions slashed to Zero! 

One of JNU’s oldest and most reputed of JNU’s departments, the Centre for Historical Studies, has seen admissions to the M.Phil./PhD programmes being slashed to zero. The pivotal role that that the students of this large Centre, which produces 45-50 M.Phil.s and 20 PhDs a year, into Indian history have played, the sheer numbers of young historians it has trained, is all to be brought to a halt this year, on the pretext of a set of regulations some UGC officials sitting in dusty office in a building at ITO drew up in May 2016. International and national condemnation. A few of them below.
The Center for Historical Studies at JNU has been, for decades now, a major and globally-recognized intellectual hub for research and teaching in South Asian history. Some illustrious scholars have served – and still serve – on its faculty. A large number of young scholars from India who now occupy research and teaching positions in top academic institutions of the world received their original training at the Center for Historical Studies at JNU. I am truly saddened to know that the admissions regulations may result in the Center not being able to produce first-rate young scholars in South Asian history. This will be a deep loss to the global community of historians and to the country. I very much hope that the relevant authorities will see reason to continue to nurture the culture of research and training that the Center has developed over the years.

Dipesh Chakrabarty, Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor of History and South Asian Languages and Civilizations, The University of Chicago 

For a scholar like me working in early Indian history up to the colonial period, the scholars at the Centre for Historical Studies at JNU have represented, for going on half a century, some of my single most important conversation partners. This conversation began with Romila Thapar, and it has continued into the present with Shonaleekha Kaul (JNU graduate and recently a new hire), who is one the most productive and inventive of premodern Indian historians working anywhere.

CHS has been a beacon in the dark world of higher education in India. Any attempt to diminish its resources constitutes an attack not only on JNU itself, but on the field of Indian history viewed globally.

Sheldon Pollock,  Arvind Raghunathan Professor of Sanskrit and South Asian Studies, Columbia University. General Editor, Murty Classical Library of India, Harvard U. Press 

The JNU Center for Historical Studies is the premier center in India — and one of the best in the world — for training advanced students in History at the MPhil and PhD levels. PhD programs South Asian History in the US, Europe have drawn their best students from the MPhil programs at CHS for many decades. My first CHS MPhil student came to the PhD program in History at the University of Pennsylvania, in the 1980s, and my most recent students are finishing PhDs today, at New York University. The closure of CHS admissions would be a terrible blow to India’s intellectual presence in the world and reflect poorly on the Government of India, in the age of globalization, when the CHS is a major force for the enrichment of India’s global academic authority.

David Ludden, Professor and Chair, Department of History, New York University 

I was shocked and saddened to hear about the recent decision to stop student recruitment to the MPhil and PhD programmes at CHS, JNU. CHS is one of the finest international centres for the study of Indian history. Its academic staff have world-leading reputations as scholars, teachers and research supervisors. Its MPhil programme has sent outstanding PhD students to Cambridge for the last thirty years or more; all of whom have gone on to have establish their own reputations as great historians. The lively quality of debate and critical analysis that are part of the CHS ethos were much in evidence at the recent ‘Young Scholars’ Conferences’ at which Cambridge students have recently presented papers. I urge the authorities to reconsider a decision that will have a lasting, and deeply damaging legacy, on our subject.

Joya Chatterji, Professor of South Asian History. Director, Centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge 

I was greatly alarmed to read about the recent decision to stop student recruitment to the MPhil and PhD programs at the Centre for Historical Studies (CHS) at Jawaharlal Nehru University. The CHS is unparalleled for the high-quality of scholars, especially in the field of Indian history, it has produced over the years. Speaking from my experience as a former president of the Association for Asian Studies as well as a Professor of Indian history in the US for several years, I cannot underscore the reputation for excellence that the CHS has earned internationally. I was reminded of just how deserving is this reputation when I had the honor earlier this year of being a Visiting Professor at CHS and of participating in that capacity in the Young Scholars’ Conference. The intellectual energy and vitality of that conference was proof, if any was needed, of the synergy between faculty and students that makes the CHS the premium department of Indian history in the world. I can thus only contemplate with horror the impact that the recent decision regarding admissions will have upon the future of the CHS and its ability to continue to be a leader in the field of Indian history. This will be a blow not just to India but also to the broader international community of scholars of India.

Mrinalini Sinha, Alice Freeman Palmer Professor of History, University of Michigan Ann Arbor

The Centre for Historical Studies at JNU has been since its inception a powerhouse of historical research and has trained an astounding percentage of world-recognised Indian historians. The Centre continues to train young scholars and inspire them to pursue cutting-edge original research, which they then continue either at JNU or at the best institutions abroad, where they typically get admission and funding.

To interrupt such training on a technicality would be a serious error of judgement and harm not just the Centre and the University, but also the international field of Indian history and, most importantly and dramatically, the new generation of students. I hope that the University will desist from such a myopic gesture which. Apne pair par kulhari marna isi ko kahte hain.

Francesca Orsini, Professor of Hindi and South Asian Literature, School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS) 


It is indeed unfortunate that a world-renowned center of excellence like the Centre for Historical Studies (CHS) at JNU may not admit any research students to its advanced graduate programs in the study of History. Graduates of CHS have distinguished themselves as scholars, teachers, and program leaders in India, of course, but also in the UK, Europe, and the USA. Some of the best students gaining admission to top PhD programs in the US and UK in recent years, not only in History, but also in Social Anthropology, Archaeology, and inter-disciplinary fields like development studies, science and technology studies, environmental studies, which I know well, continue to come from CHS, JNU. The world of scholarship on South Asian, especially Indian, History will be much poorer for the loss of such training for the next generation of students at JNU. Indian higher education would suffer, research on Indian society and history would be diminished, and the fine contribution that Indian researchers make to world academic knowledge in historical studies will be dramatically reduced if CHS at JNU were not able to continue the wonderful work it has done since its very inception roughly fifty years ago.

K. Sivaramakrishnan, Dinakar Singh Professor of India & South Asian Studies, Professor of Anthropology; Professor of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Yale University 


 This is a huge blow to the JNU History Centre’s outstanding research profile. As a former MA and M.Phil student of CHS I am well aware of the excellent grounding in historical and interdisciplinary research that I received and which I treasure. Since then, during my graduate training in the United States and my subsequent work as a scholar and faculty member at Princeton, I have benefited from the research publications of the CHS faculty. There is no doubt about their intellectual force. I believe the excellence of its faculty partly springs from its close supervision and training of M.Phil and PhD students. I have had the privilege of admitting JNU M.Phil graduates in our Princeton graduate program in history. Not only have such candidates stood on their own in the highly competitive Princeton admission process, which attracts top students internationally, but they have also gone on to succeed brilliantly in their scholarly careers. It is truly disheartening to learn that the new admission policy will deprive the academic community worldwide of the fresh research perspectives that the young scholars of CHS have traditionally provided. It is my hope that the authorities will reconsider their policy and not squander the treasure that the CHS nurtures through its M.Phil and PhD training.

Gyan Prakash, Dayton-Stockton Professor of History, Princeton University 


I am very saddened to hear from all my India-based friends that my own alma mater, Centre of Historical Studies, is refusing admissions to the MPhil and Ph.D programs. I remember how hard I studied in my Delhi University final years (1979-84) in order to make it through the admission exam and get on the admission list of the MPhil program in 1984! The panorama of courses was absolutely breathtaking….As a sheltered young girl from a middle-class home, I also had the whole of ‘India’ brought to the campus to learn from. Students from Andhra, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, HP- you name it, they were all there in my class, the hostel (Jhelum in my first two years) and the library! I sat with them in class, shared chai ‘on the rocks’ (that was all we could afford!) and they taught me so much about villages and towns in India I could never have learned on my own. The classroom, the critical reading and writing requirements, (writing to a deadline in the semester system was a huge challenge in the beginning) the ability and freedom to speak in tutorials and discussions were all such important training for me, the timid and quiet girl I had been. My MPhil years in CHS (1984-87) made me who I became subsequently.

Ever since I have been a Professor of history in the US, I have always encouraged my own undergraduates interested in pursuing research about things ‘Indian’ to train in CHS for at least a 2- year MPhil. That experience has always taught them a great deal more than I could have taught them, and inspired them to pursue a future in what they call ‘South Asian History’ here. ..I am crushed that my own students of the future will not have that chance.

So I thought I would take this opportunity to personally tell you all … that your …teaching of the MPhil/PhD students have been fundamental in shaping our field and its prospects globally. It is a shame the current regime does not understand the global ‘name brand’ that CHS is in the academic world. If it did, it would not have done such a Surdas on itself! Hurting CHS and JNU, like three fingers pointing back at the accuser, will hurt this regime’s international standing much more than they currently foresee.’

Indrani Chatterjee, Professor of History, University of Texas


The closure of admissions to the MPhil and PhD programmes of CHS threatens to destroy one of India’s leading and intellectually most innovative higher education programmes in the humanities and social sciences. Like many colleagues in other European universities I have had the privilege to work intensively with young Indian researchers from various regional and social backgrounds who had received their training at CHS and had thrived in its intellectually fertile and challenging atmosphere. Administrative interventions undermining the continuity of this programme cannot be justified on academic or educational grounds and will be understood invariably, both in India and internationally, as a politically motivated assault on academic freedom. Such bureaucratic measures deny young Indians the right to engage critically with their own history, will damage India’s international reputation as a base for scientific excellence and will be understood as an attempt to reverse the slow process of educational democratisation. I request the Vice Chancellor of JNU to reconsider his decision in order to protect the international reputation of his university as well as the intellectual and institutional achievements of one of India’s most prestigious teaching programmes in the humanities and social sciences.

Ravi Ahuja, Professor of Modern Indian History, Centre for Modern Indian Studies, University of Göttingen


We are very sorry to learn of the continuing efforts to undermine the quality of the the social science programmes at JNU. As you know I have taught and lectured frequently at the CHS and have been closely involved with the academic and intellectual life of the campus for many years. The JNU social science centres and departments are India’s premier institutions for world class research and teaching in all the vital areas of the social sciences and have an outstanding record of producing cutting edge research in these fields and of training the best of the nation’s younger scholars who will form the cadre of critical social science faculty in the coming decades. To shut down admissions to any or all of these would deal a significant blow to India’s future by cutting off the flow of talented and committed scholars who can teach the coming generations and advise Government and NGO-s alike on matters critical to India’s development.

The worldwide community of social scientists will be shocked at the thought of limiting or cutting off admission to India’s most prestigious postdoctoral programmes. Let us hope that the VC and Academic Council will turn back from this ill-advised plan.

R. P. Goldman, Catherine and William L. Magistretti Distinguished Professor in South and Southeast Asian Studies, The University of California at Berkeley 


For many decades now, JNU’s Center for Historical Studies has been among the world’s premier research institutes. The scholarship of its faculty and graduates has opened new perspectives on India’s economic, political, and cultural history, and many of its graduates have attained high positions at elite institutions in Europe, the USA, and around the world. It is a matter of great sadness that such an institute might be forced to suspend admissions for M. Phil and PhD students. Such a drastic step will be a terrible blow for academic life in India, and will moreover severely damage India’s global standing as a leader in the discipline of history, in particular South Asian history, not to mention the humanities and social sciences more generally. I join with my colleagues around the world to condemn this decision, and urge the authorities to reconsider. This is no abstract matter of outrage for me. I myself received my training at CHS and began my academic career in JNU. It has been my great pleasure, and indeed a source of tremendous pride, to have continued over the intervening decades a productive and stimulating collaboration with students and colleagues from CHS.

Muzaffar Alam, George V. Bobrinskoy Professor South Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago


I am dismayed to learn that the admissions for the M.Phil and PhD programs at the Centre for Historical Studies at JNU have been closed. This will deal a significant blow to the study of Indian history both in India, and in the world beyond. Scholars trained at CHS now teach across the globe; the reputation of the CHS as one of the world’s premier institutions for the study of Indian history is well known. Indeed, the University of Michigan has benefited from the careful mentoring of many generations of students by the CHS faculty—we have faculty, PhD students, and graduates whose foundational training took place there. Surely, mine would not be the only institution to feel the loss from this decision; and the field of Indian history in its global context would be diminished.

Farina Mir, Director, Center for South Asian Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor


The Centre for Historical Studies JNU has achieved world-wide recognition in a way that few other Indian humanities departments have. Credentials secured there are viewed as a mark of distinction across India and the world. Damaging or obstructing its educational programs would be a serious blow to Indian higher education and to India’s reputation world-wide.

Sumit Guha, Frances Higginbotham Nalle Professor in History, University of Texas at Austin


‘I write to express my dismay and shock at the decision to halt admissions to the Ph.D. and M.Phil programs at the Center for Historical Research, JNU. CHS is without doubt the finest institute in India for the study of history; it would also indisputably rank amongst the top five in the world for the study of Indian history. The scholars researching and teaching at CHS, both past and present, have produced some of the most influential work in Indian history. And many young scholars trained at CHS have gone on to stellar careers in India and elsewhere, producing brilliant work not only in history, but also in related fields such as anthropology, sociology, or geography. Indeed, amongst the scholars teaching and researching Indian history in universities in the US and Europe, more have likely been trained at CHS than at any other institute. Closing down admissions at CHS would thus be a decision that would affect humanities and social science research not just in India but globally.

Closing down admissions will also negatively affect India’s global research profile. As you know, while China and some of the other East Asian countries are much stronger than India in research in the sciences, India has a much stronger research tradition in the humanities and social sciences. Especially in history and economics, to my knowledge, no other Asian or ‘developing’ country has a comparably strong research tradition. Historians working on other parts of the world, for example, regularly turn to scholarship on the history of India for methodological and other insights. In the discipline of history, CHS exemplifies, better than any other institution, this strong tradition of research and teaching. It would be a pity if India were to squander itsenormous lead and capital through the shortsighted measure of shutting down research at CHS, an institute of truly towering reputation and accomplishments.’

Ajay Skaria, Professor, Department of History/Institute of Global Studies, University of Minnesota

I was horrified to hear about the proposed curtailment of MPhil and PhD admissions in History at the JNU. I have had the pleasure of supervising dozens of PhD students in SOAS over many years, from many countries. I have examined many more. I have no hesitation in saying that those who had studied at the JNU were always among the very best. My own JNU students were exceptionally well prepared for doctoral work. I know this to have been the experience also of colleagues at SOAS and many other universities, including others in London, and Cambridge and Oxford. JNU students tended to be far ahead of their fellow students in our own first-year research methods courses. Many of my students who had studied at the JNU now hold professorships in India and around the world.

It would be tragedy for JNU, for education and for scholarship, if this very fine tradition were to be undermined or lost. I cannot overestimate the damage that would be done to the fine reputation of the JNU if such successful programmes were not maintained at full strength.’

Peter Robb,  Professor Emeritus and formerly Pro-Director, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London


I am concerned to learn from colleagues that a proposal is under consideration to close down admissions to the M.Phil and Ph.D programmes in the Centre for Historical Studies, in JNU, for some years to come. The CHS is one of the top two or three History departments in the country, especially in the area of modern Indian history. It continues to produce excellent M.Phils and Ph.Ds in that area, some of whom I have had the good fortune to have as students or colleagues. If there is concern regarding the current weakness of some areas of expertise in this Centre, or the high supervisory burden placed on some faculty members, the solution is surely to recruit fresh faculty of high quality, rather than summarily close down a programme for some years. Experience shows that once such a hiatus is introduced, it will be difficult to begin afresh, and intellectual momentum will be lost. The UGC and the JNU administration should ponder matters, and consult fully with the faculty and research students of the Centre, before taking any such step in the name of mechanically adhering to rules.’

Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Professor, Irving and Jean Stone Endowed Chair in Social Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles


It has been a great pleasure and privilege for myself and the German Historical Institute in London to work with colleagues and PhD students from JNU’s School of Social Sciences and, in particular, its Centre for Historical Studies (CHS). These are leading academic institutions with outstanding reputations for the high quality of their teaching and research, both nationally and internationally. I have enjoyed several years of extremely fruitful and successful international cooperation with CHS colleagues, both while carrying out research and in the academic training of future scholars from Europe and every strata of Indian society. The supervision and training of PhD scholars at CHS has to be rated as excellent. There seems, therefore, to be no justification for the proposed administrative interventions which endanger the continuity of this excellent PhD training programme in the Humanities and Social Sciences and threaten to destroy one of the most internationally respected centres of academic excellence in India. I, therefore, request the Vice Chancellor to reconsider his decision to close the admissions to the MPhil and PhD programme of CHS.

Professor Andreas Gestrich, Director, German Historical Institute London

I am a product of Centre for Historical Studies. I did my MA, MPhil and PhD in CHS. The research programme of CHS has shaped my intellectual foundation. The training I received there helped me publish several monographs and research articles in leading journals. Over the years, CHS has produced some of the finest research students in the world. Many of them have been globally recognized for their original, groundbreaking and creative research. It is the finest research department that I have ever been part of in any capacity. I am truly dismayed that young students will not have access to the research programme of CHS for several years to come.

Pratik Chakrabarti, Professor of History of Science and Medicine, University of Manchester

1 Comment

  1. I am disheartened to learn of the decision to stop advanced student recruitment to JNU’s renowned Centre for Historical Studies (CHS). Like scholars the world over, my colleagues and I at the University of California, Berkeley have depended on JNU and its premier institutions like the CHS to spearhead the most rigorous historical and policy research and to generate the most productive intellectual debate. Many of our own top students and faculty have receiving trained at some point in their career at the postgraduate level at JNU. This decision diminishes not only India’s ability to be considered a leader in research in the ever more interlinked social, human, and information sciences, but it diminishes all of our work worldwide and that of our students.

    Lawrence Cohen
    Sarah Kailath Professor of India Studies
    Director, Institute for South Asia Studies
    University of California, Berkeley

    Liked by 1 person

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