Final Public Oral Exam: Joppan George

Final Public Oral Examination
Event date: 
May 16, 2019 - 1:00pm

Airborne Colony: Culture and Politics of Aviation in India, 1910-1939


Gyan Prakash, co-adviser
Emily Thompson, co-adviser
Michael Gordin
Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali Zamindar, Brown University


If the beginnings of aviation in India had the appearance of a public spectacle, what was merely a sideshow in Allahabad soon became the centerpiece of the tableau of late colonial politics. This dissertation traces that transformation. It forges a history of aviation away from the genius of aeronautical innovations in the West, and away from the foundries and factories, to situate its introduction and evolution in the field of everyday experiences of the colonial society. Airplanes in India were constitutive of the governing logic of the late colonial state and they produced a material reality quite different from that which it shaped elsewhere. The history of colonial aviation in the subcontinent deserves attention, not only because of the vastness of its circulation, but also because of the extent of its reach and the particularities of its use in the practice of aerial policing and surveillance of the frontier tribesmen. If the British sought to singularly propel the airplanes, in my dissertation, a cast of frontier tribesmen, legislators, writers, princes, an airhost, and peasants animated the colonial aviatic. To tell this story, my dissertation engages with two historical views. One view decenters the conventional British representations of the aviatic sense of the colonial natives and their assumed inadequacy in the reception of technological modernity. The colonial subjects on their part challenged the colonialist perspective to deliberately remodel it through their discursive, experiential, and material practices. The British empire’s interest in the aerial vision that facilitated the formation of knowledge is the second view I explore. The privileged intimacy of the vertical perspective, I argue, enabled the territorialization of punitive, extractive, and epistemic powers of the colonial state.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam in the History Graduate Student Lounge: 105 Dickinson Hall.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

Area of Interest: 
Colonialism & Post Colonialism
Cultural History
History of Technology
Imperial History
Intellectual History
Social History
Urban History
20th Century