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Critical Histories

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Fragments of Empire

Capital, Slavery, and Indian Indentured Labor in the British Caribbean

By Madhavi Kale

When Great Britain abolished slavery in 1833, sugar planters in the Caribbean found themselves facing the prospect of paying working wages to their former slaves. Cheaper labor existed elsewhere in the empire, however, and plantation owners, along with the home and colonial governments, quickly began importing the first of what would eventually be hundreds of thousands of indentured laborers from India.

Madhavi Kale draws extensively on the archival materials from the period and argues that imperial administrators sanctioned and authorized distinctly biased accounts of postemancipation labor conditions and participated in devaluing and excluding alternative accounts of slavery. As she does this she highlights the ways in which historians, by relying on these biased sources, have perpetuated the acceptance of a privileged perspective on imperial British history.

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Gandhi's Body

Sex, Diet, and the Politics of Nationalism

By Joseph S. Alter

No single person is more directly associated with India and India's struggle for independence than Mahatma Gandhi. His name has equally become synonymous with the highest principles of global equality, human dignity, and freedom.

Joseph Alter argues, however, that Gandhi has not been completely understood by biographers and political scholars, and in Gandhi's Body he undertakes a reevaluation of the Mahatma's life and thought. In his revisionist and iconoclastic approach, Alter moves away from the usual focus on nonviolence, peace, and social reform and takes seriously what most scholars who have studied Gandhi tend to ignore: Gandhi's preoccupation with sex, his obsession with diet reform, and his vehement advocacy for naturopathy. Alter concludes that a distinction cannot be made between Gandhi's concern with health, faith in nonviolence, and his sociopolitical agenda.

In this original and provocative study, Joseph Alter demonstrates that these seemingly idiosyncratic aspects of Gandhi's personal life are of central importance to understanding his politics—and not only Gandhi's politics but Indian nationalism in general. Using the Mahatma's own writings, Alter places Gandhi's bodily practices in the context of his philosophy; for example, he explores the relationship between Gandhi's fasting and his ideas about the metaphysics of emptiness and that between his celibacy and his beliefs about nonviolence.

Alter also places Gandhi's ideas and practices in their national and transnational contexts. He discusses how and why nature cure became extremely popular in India during the early part of the twentieth century, tracing the influence of two German naturopaths on Gandhi's thinking and on the practice of yoga in India. More important, he argues that the reconstruction of yoga in terms of European naturopathy was brought about deliberately by a number of activists in India—of whom Gandhi was only the most visible—interested in creating a "scientific" health regimen, distinct from Western precedents, that would make the Indian people fit for self-rule. Gandhi's Body counters established arguments that Indian nationalism was either a completely indigenous Hindu-based movement or simply a derivative of Western ideals.

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