This talk focuses on the spoliation and seizure of objects as emblems of sovereignty across the valley of the Ganges in India from late antiquity across the longue durée, including desecration of temples and looting of idols, as suggestive points of departure for a history of the seizure and borrowing of images, texts and emblems from bygone or vanquished regimes. It discusses how the valley emerged as the political heartland and theatre of warfare in the subcontinent, redefining the geographical reach of the ‘middle-country’, setting the context for the culmination of an embattled history in which the Ganga, along with its tributary Yamuna, became a guardian deity and imperial icon essential to the practices of warfare, spoliation, patronage and kingship.
Sudipta Sen, Professor of History and Director of the Middle East/South Asia Studies Program, University of California, Davis, is a historian of late Mughal and early British India and the British Empire. He graduated from Presidency College, Calcutta, with BA (Honors) in History, followed by an MA is Modern History from Calcutta University. He earned his second MA in Social Sciences, and was awarded a PhD in History with Distinction, from the University of Chicago. Sen has taught at Beloit College, University of California, Berkeley, and Syracuse University. A former Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research fellow and Senior Fellow at the National Endowment for the Humanities, he won the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Award for his contribution to research and teaching at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University. His work has largely focused on the early history of British expansion in India. He is the author of Empire of Free Trade: The English East India Company and the Making of the Colonial Marketplace (1998) and Distant Sovereignty: National Imperialism and the Origins of British India (2002). His latest book Ganges: The Many Pasts of an Indian River (2018) is an exploration of the idea of a cosmic, universal river at the interstices of myth, historical geography and ecology.