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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Emma Roberts

Last semester, I had to do a project in my romanticism class in which I had to find an obscure British poet and then research the background and important context on one of their poems. I ended up choosing Emma Roberts for her connection to India. She lived in India for over a decade, if I remember. Maybe I am remembering wrong. Anyhow, she lived there for at least a few years on two separate trips. At the time she was a fairly well known writer in England. She published several books of her travel writing that initially appeared in magazines. While I was researching her though, I found that there were basically no resources available about her. There was some biography and the oldest documents all referenced her journals and letters. However I was never able to find the original journals and letters, only references to them in old books. Actually, only in one old book. She died in India, so my question is, is there some trace or evidence of Emma Roberts left in India?

Basically I would be going back to snoop around in the national archive as well as in the cities she lived in to see if some of her documents are holed up somewhere forgotten or if they are in a university library or something like that.

I don't quite know if I would limit myself to Emma Roberts or not. What I am most interested in seeing is not so much her writing of the time, since most that was sent to England anyways, but what she thought of India in her personal writings. Thus I have thought about expanding it to include the writings of any British women living in India from around 1800 through 1947. I want to know what they thought about conditions there, the people, how they felt about being there, and what they did everyday.

To do this I would have to first somehow find a list of people that were there, hopefully with some idea of who might have left some sort of record that could still possibly be there. In India I would have to find a network of people who might know, get access to the national archive (which would require prior permission, of course), and visit necessary libraries, cemeteries, government buildings, etc. This would require some travel, which I am not stoked about, since it would add difficulty, but as things are, I would probably have to visit places like Kolkata, Mumbai, and Simla in addition to Delhi.

Through this I would hope to be able to put together a coherent picture of colonial India through they eyes of British women as an alternative history rather than the one often told from the perspective the male British military commanders and government officers or the native populace whether complacent or insurgent. Actually looking at it all from the perspective of the native female would be super fascinating, but I do not know if any such record exists. I will do some research, but I only know of one really influential female who would have written down stuff, the Begum Sumroo. I do not know if there are any like her.

Some concerns I have with this topic are the amount of work it would require, the barrier of history, and time constraints. I do not feel like the topic is horrendously broad, however I am obviously not going to be able to just travel to important cities and do a few house visits. Since no one has really done much like this before, (at least that I have found, I am still researching) it is unlikely that these records are in one convenient location or even gathered at all. I do not know if there is even enough time to track down this many records. Trying to follow one person could be more time intensive than a single summer could allow. I think my biggest concern is simply how much time has passed. Huge political upheavals like the 1857 uprising and India gaining its independence involved a large movement of the British. I am sure there are more periods of upheaval, but any of these inevitably result in the loss of documents. If the people I am researching are not important, their journals and documents may have just been thrown away or destroyed from lack of care. I also am not even sure where to begin looking for that kind of thing. I think most of it, (if it still exists) if it has not been collected by the government then it is probably either knowingly or unknowingly in private collections. It may be impossible from the start to get the records. I guess identifying important historical structures might help, however doing a historical survey of even a single city is probably beyond my skill and more than could be done in three months.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm, that's an interesting problem (trying to find the original journals and letters that Emma Roberts history is based on). I really have no idea how people usually find access to this sort of thing. Maybe some of the family history people on campus would have some suggestions?