A Rare Opportunity to Study Politics & History in India

When I arrived at La Trobe to take up my postdoctoral research position, I noticed that the India content in the Arts and Social Sciences College (ASSC) was limited (outside of our outstanding Hindi program). Even though my job is primarily to produce research, I knew this was something I wanted to address.

Thanks to ASSC and its support for short-term international tour subjects, I will be able not just to teach a course on India, but to take students there as well.

The result is the India: Politics, History and Identity Study tour (HUS3ISB / HUS2ISB). On this trip, we will explore India’s history, its identity and perspective on world affairs with representatives from government, business and academia in Delhi, Varanasi, the village of Pal in Maharashtra and Mumbai. It is interdisciplinary and open to any student with an interest in India, but particularly focuses on history, politics, international relations and environmentalism. I am partnering with CERES global, who has great experience in India, and will bring a focus on India’s environmental politics. I’m particularly excited for students to get an experience of rural India. Rural India is stunning, but it’s not somewhere many people get to visit.

I did not travel much through my own undergraduate studies, and it was to my detriment. I was able to perform mostly historical research on India from afar, managing to gain a masters on Indian colonial history without ever having been there. When I moved to Adelaide to begin a PhD on the role that this colonial history has in India’s contemporary foreign policy, this quickly began to feel insufficient.

Spending over six months in India over the course of my PhD, both performing research and travelling, made my research better. But, it helped to change my view not just of international politics and history, but of Australia as well. For example, it is hard to understand the level of anger on Australia’s roads once you’ve seen the comparatively serene way in which people handle the far more severe traffic of Delhi.

Australian students are more able to travel now than they were ten years ago when I was an undergraduate. Although it’s perhaps unfair, I’ve always been slightly baffled by students who wanted to travel on their studies but chose the UK or the US as their only destination. It is by visiting places in the ‘global south’ that students can best challenge their assumptions about the world.

Day-to-day Life in India is difficult. You might assume this is just because of the poverty, but actually it is difficult everywhere. Travellers to India get a very small taste of the nature of Indian bureaucracy through the simple act of trying get a sim card.

This means that some new visitors find India very uncomfortable and challenging. There’s poverty of course. There’s air pollution and open sewers. Finding clean water drinking water can be difficult. A great variety of animals roam the streets. India, though, is also an endlessly fascinating, stimulating and entertaining place to be. The opportunities presented to us by studying and engaging with India’s challenges and its viewpoint on world affairs are enormous.

If you do decide to come, and you want a sim card to stay in touch with home, make sure you bring two 2×2 inch passport photographs of yourself, a contact number for someone in India, and a few photocopies of your passport. Just for the bureaucracy.

If you are interested in joining Alex’s study tour to India, or want more information, email him: a.davis@latrobe.edu.au.

Alexander Davis is a ‘new generation network’ postdoctoral research fellow with the La Trobe University and the Australia India Institute. His research focuses on Indian history and foreign policy, working from a postcolonial perspective. You can follow him on Twitter at @AlexEDavisNGN