Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, History, University of Washington

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2018
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, University of Washington
Books across Borders: Science, Cold War Culture, and Soviet Book Reading in Postcolonial India, 1954-1991

This project examines the historical development of a scientific and technological ethos in postcolonial India by focusing on how young Indian readers engaged with translated Soviet children's literature and textbooks at the historical conjuncture of the Cold War and decolonization. Between 1954, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev consolidated power in the Soviet Union, and 1991, the year marking both the disintegration of the USSR and India's economic liberalization, a robust popular youth culture flourished in India that centered on Soviet translated books. My study of this popular culture, which millions of Indian boys, girls, and students from middle and lower-middle class backgrounds helped to bring about, questions the conventional view that a male-dominated cohort of state leaders, institutions, and elite scientists were solely responsible for India's establishment as a modern, industrialized nation with a "scientific temper." Taking the rapid, post-independence rise in India's literacy rate seriously, I ask why so many child- and student-readers gravitated toward Soviet books, what these books meant to them, and how their engagement with these texts was shaped by larger post-colonial economic and social forces. My approach to this topic is at once focused on the everyday, embodied experiences of reading Soviet texts and on the transnational operations, migrations, and negotiations that undergirded the production of these books in the USSR and, later, their circulation in India. Drawing on a vast archival collection of readers' letters sent by Indian children to Soviet publishers as well as on ethnographic research, I will elucidate how childhood reading practices, book cultures, and Cold War cultural relations contributed to India's forging of a global and national identity based on science and technology.