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First-Year Seminar--Non-Western History (103-6-24)


British Colonial Roots of American Racial Thinking


Rajeev Kumar Kinra
Harris Hall - Room 307
Rajeev Kinra is a professor of early modern South Asian history and comparative literature, specializing in the literary and political culture of the Mughal and early British colonial Indian empires, and the early modern (16th-19th century) Indo-Persian and Indian Ocean worlds more broadly.

Meeting Info

Kresge Centennial Hall 2-339: Tues, Thurs 2:00PM - 3:20PM

Overview of class

This course will examine the roots of several aspects of modern American racial thought in British colonial India (ca. 18th-19th centuries). The words "thug" and "loot," for instance, are actually Hindi words that entered the English lexicon through their use by British officials in India, whose deployment of such terms in colonial policing and surveillance of the subject population altered their meaning considerably from the original Hindi. Similarly, the term "Aryan" (so commonly associated with modern Euro-American racial identity and racist ideas) comes from the Sanskrit term ārya, although here too its meaning changed radically in its translation from classical Sanskrit texts into the discourse of Aryanism in modern race science, eugenics, and nationalism (including in India itself). British colonial ideas have also played a formative role in American foreign policy, whether in terms of controlling the "tribal" and "nomadic" Native American populations during the westward expansion of the 19th and early 20th centuries, or administering the American colonies in the Philippines (and elsewhere), or, more recently, in the discourse surrounding the so-called "global war on terror." Understanding the British colonial roots of many of these phenomena not only helps us to put American racial thought in a wider global context, but also, one hopes, gives us tools to critique these ideas in the present and try to imagine a better, more tolerant future.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this course, we will hopefully improve your writing and ability to understand certain aspects of American racial thought in a larger (and deeper) historical, colonial, and global context.

Evaluation Method

Mostly short papers during the quarter, plus a final essay

Class Attributes

WCAS First-Year Seminar

Enrollment Requirements

Enrollment Requirements: Reserved for First Year & Sophomore only