At India Ink, our mission is to communicate Indian history in a way that’s simple and accessible to all.
Why is this important?
Because history is relevant. If we don’t understand the past, we can’t understand the present. Yhe violence and the wonders of the current moment have their sources in the distant past. Once we understand ourselves, and how we got to the present juncture, it becomes possible to think about where we’re headed. To borrow a phrase from Yuval Harari, India Ink isn’t focused on the past, it’s focused on change.
Because history is complicated. Historians are constantly rediscovering and rethinking the past as new facts and ideas come to light. Following these debates can be hard. And pop culture – movies, TV, memes – tends to care more about being entertaining than being accurate. And now have to wrestle with fake news and dangerous conspiracies as well. But just because the truth is complicated that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Because history is inaccessible.Our textbooks were often over-simplified and sometimes wrong. We want to share the fruits of academic knowledge production which – despite its rampant, discriminatory structures – remains the best framework we have today. But the most credible sources of history are often locked behind expensive paywalls and technical language, only available to the most dedicated – and privileged – readers.
What are we going to do?
We want to simplify academic history and explain why readers should care. Academic writing can be dense and abstract. We want our summaries to be conversational and connected to the debates and issues in the public sphere. But at the same time, we want to keep the spotlight on the original authors and their work. We want to make sure that our readers know whose work we’re building on and how to dig deeper if they’re interested. So we cite our sources and link to publicly-accessible versions (when they exist).
We will leverage the strengths of the internet. We want to design our content to take advantage of the interne and the forms of interactivity that it enables. We’re also commited to going to our readers – rather than making them come to us. Our website will be a central hub and archive where all of our content will be available. But our articles will exist – in full – as threads on Twitter, as posts on Instagram and Facebook, as broadcast messages on Whatsapp, and so on. If you want to read us once a week in the comfort of your email inbox, subscribe to our newsletter.
We will learn, grow and adapt as we go. We are approaching this as journalists, not historians. The goals of this project are limited to communicating the work of professional historians and boosting accessibility to the social sciences. We see India Ink as an experiment. And we foresee the form of this experiment necessarily changing and evolving over time as we test our ideas and receive feedback. This means we will make mistakes. So when we err, we hope to be transparent and accountable and learn from our errors.
If you’d like a behind-the-scenes look as we build in public, see our posts here.
Who are we?
Visvak Ponnavolu is a journalist who has worked in print and digital, as an editor and as a reporter. He studied South Asian history and politics at SOAS, University of London on a Chevening Scholarship and prior to that he was the Essays Editor at BuzzFeed India.
Thomas Manuel is a writer from Chennai, India. His work has appeared at Lapham’s Quarterly, The Nib, The Wire, The Hindu, among others. His play, Hamlet and Angad, won the 2016 Hindu Playwright Award. His first book, a narrative history of the opium trade in colonial India, is to be published by Harper Collins in 2021.
Shireen Azam is a DPhil researcher at the University of Oxford, where she works on the invisibilisation of caste among Indian Muslims. She was previously at the Economic & Political Weekly, where she founded the digital initiative EPW Engage, a project which explored new grounds in making Indian academic research accessible and exciting for scholars and non-scholars alike.
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