Are the varied trajectories of the Humanities globally “in crisis”? By all reports and general consensus, yes. All of us who are connected, either directly or remotely, with the praxis of Humanities in a range of academic disciplines and creative endeavours, are grievously, continually wounded at witnessing the fast and deliberate withdrawal of institutional support for the Arts and Humanities across the world, apparently with the active encouragement of policy-makers and administrators. However, margHumanities is viscerally against consensus.

While we recognize that one must always be crystal-clear-eyed and continuously-conscious of the warp and weight of the opposition, we also believe that the opposition is as much the practitioner of the Humanities who is cynical, dejected, abject, compliant and resigned, as it is the visible anti-Humanities brigade which is empowered, identified and incites us to battle.

If we agree – as perhaps we must – that the Humanities is in some sort of existential crisis, we simultaneously see this experience of an evolving and growing crisis as challenging and dynamic.  Crises can often be moments of critical pause, of self-reflexivity, of re-girding battalions and marking fresh targets, of course – but they can also, more crucially, be indicators of life and spirit unquenched. Had the Humanities not been, we might wager, of such a character that engenders disquiet, the enemy may not have been so belligerent and so tenacious in its subdual mode. We would wish to register the significance of all opposition  to the nurture and dissemination of the Humanities, but we would also salute this state of crisis as a meeting point, or hub as it were, of the ebb and flow of opinion, debate, argument, agreement, dissent, consent, thought, pause and passion about such an incendiary canvas.

We might locate ourselves – only provisionally and partially, as always, and visually and virtually in the main – on Chhatra Marg, the arterial avenue that winds through Delhi University’s main campus and encounters the heat and the dust, the freeze and the fog, of  a lived Humanities at a metropolitan educational site in South Asia, both metaphorically and materially. It is crucial that the location – virtual as it is – is outside, peripheral, marginal, bounding the buildings in which the institutional activities press on – even as it is an essential feeder (in some non-essentialist meandering way) – for the life that daily flows in and out of the brick-and-mortar and injects it with its dying, reviving spirit.

It is also imperative that the marg – road, track, path, thoroughfare – is winding and hurdled, that it is thickly-peopled in stretches and surprisingly-lonely at spots, that a range of wheeled contraptions bump and grind and race up and down it all day, every day, and a changing combination of food-and assorted-small goods-vendors set up transitory selling locations down the length of pavements variously dug-up and re-laid. The marg is the hub of the passing and crossing of time, youth, age, ideas, dreams and distress. Fantasies germinate, bloom and die there. Battles are launched, wars are lost and won. Signs point to roads taken and abandoned. The marg witnesses, marks, chronicles, pauses and participates, with passion and engagement, a spirit of inquiry and interrogation, a lustre of hope in risk and revelation – as margHumanities proposes to do.

And so, we have plans -- and we want to share them with you.

As for the global crisis of the Humanities, we cannot argue with the fact that policymakers and funders, across categories of state and the private, are hostile to the idea of nurturing the Arts and the Humanities; and we are therefore, in our different disciplines and professions, all existing in embattled spaces. But we are clearly not defeated, if we are daily expending our energies on protecting and girding our spaces, transgressing boundaries and breaking norms. And so we are launching margHumanities, a real and virtual space for rethinking, revitalising and revamping the spaces we inhabit, in consultation and in collaboration with each other across and within our various disciplines.

We start margH modestly: with this website, and 4 projects in various stages of development, all fairly nascent.

  • Our pilot project, so to speak, is a Global Humanities Initiative in collaboration with Professor Michael Levenson of the University of Virginia, USA (Director, Humanities Center and Professor of English)
  • Our ongoing (pre-existing) supporting project for margH is the blog Humanities Underground (HUG), conceived and run by Prasanta over the past year and having already carried more than 50 diverse articles of interest to the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, apart from many discussions, interrogations, arguments. HUG will now be the blog-face of margHumanities.
  • We have been working in different capacities on the other 2 projects (though not under the umbrella of margH) over the last couple of years to do some new thinking around these rubrics: the first, parleyArts, will investigate and display new directions in art and culture which resist, interrupt and contradict received ideas, about the ways in which the arts must safely conduct and confine its expressions and explorations in contemporary contexts;
  • the second, engLitStudiesNow, will examine critically the trajectory of shaping the study and teaching of English Literature in India from the 1980s, in which we find that increasingly divergent views and methods are excitingly emergent. These trends are both resistant to, and developing upon, the directions mapped by the then frontrunners of the movement, to think politically about postcolonial English.

Through this website, we shall keep you informed about and invited to whatever events and projects we imagine and execute as we move along: for you to join, think about, comment upon, or discuss with us, as you feel inclined. If you have ideas about collaborations and programmes we might pursue through margHumanities, we would welcome them and try to work them out with you: please contact us. We envision a space of reflection, energetic action and dissensual interrogation: come share it with us.

Brinda Bose and Prasanta Chakravarty
of the Department of English at the University of Delhi, India