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The Making of Modernist Resistance, 1880-1950

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ssmscaifa (The Making of Modernist Resistance, 1880-1950)

Reporting period: 2015-09-01 to 2017-08-31

The vibrant diversity of an increasingly global modernity owes much to the cross-cultural exchanges born of activist resistance to the British Indian colonial encounter and the aftermath of decolonization. In the Indo-Anglian writer-activists Mulk Raj Anand and Venu Chitale employed sonic representation on their BBC’s Home and Eastern Service radio programmes to deliver anti-colonial, anti-fascist content with unprecedented speed and immediacy. Seventies and eighties BBC Radio Four retrospectives on the British Raj such as “The Crown and the Lotus” by Charles Allen and Michael Mason or “Indian Tales from the Raj” by Roshan Seth and Zaeer Masani, employed even more advanced modes of sound representation in their recounting of the colonial legacy. My monograph, The Making of Multipolar Modernity: Britain, India, and the Sounding of Colonial Resistance, examines how literary texts, oral histories, and BBC Radio programs from the forties to the eighties enact, revise, and redeploy narratives about the British Raj and anti-colonial resistance in response to the socio-political moment of their production. While BBC radio programmes about the British-Indian encounter from the forties implicitly challenge Britain’s colonial dominance, seventies and eighties revisions of these earlier narratives reveal Britain’s anxieties about national decline following decolonisation.
Affective devices such as the tone or inflection of speakers or layered speech and music enabled sound media producers to transform the historical and emotional context through which listeners heard these narratives. By employing sound to evoke two separate historical moments in the same frame, producers linked past attitudes of colonial dominance with contemporary attitudes toward immigrants in ways that influenced public discourse. Considering broadcasts from these periods as part of a larger continuum illustrates how programmes produced retrospectively can employ sound to account for Britain’s increasingly critical views of Empire and deploy these to promote truth and reconciliation.
The main research outputs come from work on my book manuscript, The Making of Multipolar Modernity: Britain, India, and the Sounding of Colonial Resistance. Two of the five chapters from this work will appear in peer-reviewed volumes. My second chapter, “From Punjab Trilogy to the BBC Eastern Service: The Political Critiques and Cultural Mediations of Mulk Raj Anand,” has been accepted for an edited collection of essays entitled Sound in South Asia, edited by Dr Laura Brueck, Dr Jacob Smith, and Dr Neil Verma. My third chapter, “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Voices: Venu Chitale’s Transnational Mediations on the BBC’s Home and Eastern Service,” has been accepted by Dr Justine Lloyd and Dr Jilly Kay, who are editing a special issue of Media, Culture, and Society, focused on gender and transnational broadcasting. I’ve completed a book proposal in response to an invitation from Dr Jessica Berman and Dr Paul K. Saint-Amour, editors of the Modernist Latitudes Series through Columbia University Press which they will review to consider my monograph for publication.
During the fellowship, I disseminated my research through eleven conferences and talks. Four of these were invited, two by the King’s College English Department, one at the Cross Currents: Gender and Transnational Broadcasting Workshop at Bournemouth University, and one at the Sound Cultures Symposium at Queen Mary London University. Some of the other papers were given at conferences including the Modernist Studies Association, The Modern Language Association, and the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing. The largest academic dissemination activity involved co-organizing an international gathering of radio researchers entitled The BBC and the World Service: Debts and Legacies Conference at King’s College London. The event was open to the general public and I subsequently wrote an entry for the King’s College English Department Blog that links radio research to our everyday engagement with broadcasts and podcasts.
The research methods I honed through the project formed the main content for the King’s English Department’s Doctoral Research Seminar which I redesigned and taught in 2016-2017. It’s success led the Director of Graduate Studies to adopt it as a template for the department. I also had opportunities to offer two sessions on applying for the Marie Curie Individual Fellowship for KCL early career training workshops and participate in an information day about European Research Grants organized by the European Commission.
Given the project’s focus on sound media, my main public engagement project involves making two podcasts that present material from my research and link it to our current political climate which will be available by summer 2018. The first considers a 1943 play by Mulk Raj Anand that links the Bengal Famine to Britain’s draining of India’s resources during World War II. The second considers how radio broadcasts from the seventies and eighties historicize our understanding of anti-immigrant attitudes today.
Disseminating my work on sound has contributed to building a network of radio researchers who collaborate to continue dialogue in academic and public arenas. At KCL, Dr. James Grande and I formed the Sound Studies Reading Group in spring 2017 to engage colleagues working in diverse genres and periods. The recent launch of the Centre for Sound Cultures at Queen Mary continues to draw upon and expand these communities. In spring 2018, I will collaborate with them to host three events that create dialogue between academics, practitioners, and activists working closely with sound. Given recent attention to the centenary, the heightened attention to sound among people working in fields such as modernism, heritage studies, and museum curation has potential to shape their narratives about the First World War. An invitation to present my work at a workshop on war in the intermodern period suggests interest in engaging commentary upon what studies of radio or other sound mediums contribute to our understanding of both world wars. The explosive popularity of sound podcast content despite the hyper-visual culture confirms the potency of sonic representation to dictate our dominant discourses.

The astonishing transformation of the global landscape due to the migrant crisis, Brexit, Trumpist post-truth politics, and rising zenophobia make this study especially timely. The inspiring resistance to the divisiveness and violence unleashed by these events through activist sound media that fuels international solidarity marches and movements like Black Lives Matter or Me Too confirms the potential for deploying narratives in transformative ways. My monograph establishes that the BBC’s strategic use of sound prompted listeners to understand how anti-immigrant attitudes had their roots in the colonial, fascist, and Nazi movements previously confronted by the Indian writer-activists I study. The podcasts I am producing establish how our current climate of xenophobia is both an extension of and divergence from the past. In turn, they make a case for reading literary accounts of colonial and immigrant resistance next to related BBC programmes to understand how sound can both distort narratives of resistance or deploy them to promote truth and reconciliation.
Key voices in the project, including Anand, Chitale, and Orwell, gather round the BBC microphone.