2004, 2012, 2014
- Associate Professor
- Columbia University
The Courtly Vernacular: Hindi Literary Culture from Mughal to Colonial Times
My project documents the poetic and intellectual practices of the Hindi riti (classical) tradition, a little-studied literary movement that flourished in 17th- and 18th- century north India. By examining the significance of this movement as an aesthetic, social, and political phenomenon, the book that results will expand the horizons of our understanding of pre-modern Hindi literature beyond the domain of religion to which it today is almost exclusively restricted. The main contribution of the book will be to the fields of Indian literature and intellectual history, but in its sustained treatment of the dynamics of Indian vernacularization, the work will also be in dialogue with a corpus of scholarship on comparable trends from the very same period and social landscape in Europe.
The Poetry of History: Region and Empire in Early Modern Hindi Literature
This project on Hindi historical literature, which flourished at regional Indian courts operating within the power shadow of the Mughal dynasty (sixteenth-eighteenth centuries), explores an important form of precolonial historical practice in South Asia to determine what these texts tell us about local Indian ways of being historical, and of being political, prior to colonial modernity. The study opens up entirely new domains of inquiry for Hindi literary studies and at the same time contributes regional Indian perspectives to the field of Mughal history, which has been dominated by imperial Persian and exogenous European sources.
Aesthetic Worlds of the Indian Heroine
The idealized female figure became the focus of intense cultural production among India's Muslim and Hindu elite during the Mughal period, 1526-1857. Aitken, an art historian, and Busch, a literary scholar, combine their disciplinary expertise to bring to light the cultural, social, and political significance of female ideals in elite Mughal society, upending a historiographical consensus that has tended to typecast cultural production as either indigenous and Hindu or exogenous and Muslim. Together, Aitken and Busch analyze new archival sources and relationships between visual and literary records to argue that aestheticized depictions of ideal women were the primary subjects through which Muslim and Hindu (primarily Rajput) nobility explored what beauty, pleasure, and desire meant in their overlapping worlds. They look at how these depictions opened up an expressive arena for Mughal and Rajput interchange, which facilitated the sharing of social enjoyment and the effecting of political compromise. An important aim of the project is to provide a model for understanding the mechanisms by which shared aesthetic realms were forged in profoundly multi-ethnic societies like India's. This collaborative study will result in Aesthetic Worlds of the Indian Heroine, a co-authored monograph (their first joint publication), which will make a compelling case for why Indian painting and poetry must be studied in tandem. Building on recent studies of transculturation, they trace sites of both poetic and pictorial transmission and exchange and map networks of complex circles of patrons and connoisseurs. Aitken has long been deeply interested in female agency and spectatorship in the visual arts, and in recent research Busch has shown how Hindi literature played a role in the education of courtesans and palace women. They come together to investigate the intersection between representations of ideal women and what can be known about the lived experiences of real women, building on the latest work in Indian gender theory to enrich the contribution of Indian perspectives to gender and social history. The monograph proposes new ways of thinking about hermeneutics, artistic agency, and connoisseurship and includes previously unpublished paintings and new translations of poems. Award period: January 1, 2015 - December 31, 2016