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A. Dutta

PhD student
A. Dutta

In Search of an Alternative Europe: Germanism and Continental Europe in the Bengali Imagination, 1919-45

As evident from the dominant intellectual discourses among the Bengalis from the late nineteenth century British India, Continental Europe had long been perceived by them as a location of different sets of orders and customs, culminating in a different vision of ‘European civilisation’. Although there had been a sustained interest about many parts of the Central European and Mediterranean world, Germany, or what Andrew Sartori calls ‘Germanism’, overshadowed the Bengali psyche in their pursuit of an essential Kultur against the superficiality of an Anglicist intellectual milieu. The development through which Germany became a key trope of Bengali nationalist discourse has been shown in the recent research from Sartori and Kris Manjapra ( Sartori, Andrew. Bengal in Global Concept History: Culturalism in the Age of Capital, 2008 & Manjapra, Kris. Age of Entanglement: German and Indian Intellectuals Across Empire, 2014).

Building upon the existing historiography of how the intellectual encounter with Germany contributed to the nationalist reconstruction of historicist, religious revivalist and political-economic discourses from around the 1870s, this project intends to scrutinise the continuation of those discourses in the interwar years. The timeframe of the study is crucial because the traditional German state of the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century was in itself gradually undergoing a radical change in terms of its internal structural organisation and external outreach. The time is also important from the Indian side because since 1919 the introduction of Gandhian politics in the Indian arena helped to divert a lot of Indian students from the British universities to the ones in German-speaking Europe. The hitherto existing channels of mutual interaction between the intellectual world of the Germanic world and colonial Bengal had undergone a colossal change as distant gaze and appreciation were increasingly complemented by the physical presence of Bengalis in continental Europe, resulting in a plethora of travelogues and written accounts.

Coterminous with these developments, the Bengali intellectual sphere increasingly came closer to what Mark Mazower and Benjamin Martin would call the ‘Axis vision of world order’ (Martin, Benjamin George. The Nazi-Fascist New Order for European Culture, 2016). In the name of translating the concept of Kultur in Bangla, and thus placing it line with an organicist and völkisch understanding of culture, the concerned Bengalis strived towards projecting a space (Nazi Germany in particular) that epitomised orderliness upon which an ‘Aryan’ nation-in-the-making like India could potentially construct itself in the foreseeable future.

With these historical trajectories of intellectual encounters in the background this project looks at the transnational circulation of certain key concepts such as Germanism, Aryanism, and Anti-Semitism in the Interwar years. Drawing upon a plethora of sources – starting from the hitherto unpublished and untranslated egodocuments and travelogues of the Bengali visitors in Germany to the archival sources tracking the formal mobility of a group of Bengali natural scientists, linguists, historians and political activists (mostly under the auspices of Kaiser-Wilhelm Gesellschaft, Deutsche Akademie in New Delhi and Humboldt academic exchange for the British Indians) – this research is trying to find how Interwar Germany had reshaped the Bengali understanding of Europe; and how these transnational transference of conceptual ideas and intellectual encounters got translated into tangible political action within the anticolonial rhetoric of late colonial British India.


Prof. Dr. Dirk Jan Wolffram

Dr. Clemens Six

Last modified:16 July 2019 3.32 p.m.

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9712 EK Groningen
The Netherlands