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Professor Ananya Kabir awarded 2017 Infosys Prize for Humanities


The recipient of “India’s most prestigious academic award” has praised the AHRC for supporting her career and helping her develop the body of work that ultimately led to recognition by the judging panel.

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Prof Ananya Kabir. Copyright: KCL

Prof Ananya Jahanara Kabir, King’s College, London, was awarded the Infosys Prize for Humanities, 2017, in November last year in recognition of her highly original explorations of the long-standing historical elements - conceptual, social and cultural - in colonial modernity, and for her subtle and insightful ethnography of cultural and political life in Kashmir.

Prof Kabir said: “I have been a recipient of several AHRC awards during the period 2004-2013. The research I did with these awards and the publications they enabled, fed into a body of work which has been recently recognised by India’s most prestigious academic award.

“It is a pleasing result of the AHRC’s support of early and mid-career researchers.”

The jury described Prof Kabir as “a strikingly original and accomplished scholar whose work fundamentally illuminates our thinking about the relationship between modernity and tradition.”

Prof Kabir says that the AHRC’s support has been particularly helpful in that it enabled her to pursue what she describes as “quite an unusual academic career” that involved developing different specialisations as she explored new areas of interest. 

“I see myself as a literary and cultural historian who uses the same sort of reading techniques and asks similar questions of different areas of study and time periods.

“My doctoral research was on medieval Europe. But after I finished that I got interested in applying what I had learnt to cultural production in contemporary South Asia. I managed to do that with the help of the University of Leeds, where I got my first academic job.

“While I was there, as I was applying for funding in the early 2000s, I got involved with the AHRC who were able to further support me to go off and do the kind of research I was interested in. At that time the AHRC had a particularly important call for my career: ‘Diaspora and Migration’.

“Together with some colleagues at Leeds, I put together an application for funding for a multi-disciplinary network that allowed us to study the British Asian community.

“I got into the position where I was able to apply for AHRC-funded leave and that was crucial in giving me time to complete the book, Territory of Desire: Representing the Valley of Kashmir (2009), which later got me this prize.”

Along the way, Prof Kabir also became one of the earliest recipients of an AHRC Knowledge Transfer Fellowship, thanks to which she mounted an ambitious programme bringing eight women artists working on conflict from different parts of South Asia to galleries and museums across the North of England. This experience was especially valuable in helping her develop the skills to deal with colleagues who were not academics when developing research networks.

“Simple things like how to better work with freelancers were very useful for me in finding better ways of collaborating with people who, while they may come from different backgrounds, have shared ideals and goals.”

These diverse skills in research management also led to her successful application for a multi-million euro ERC Advanced Grant investigating African-diasporic music and dance genres and their relationship to global modernity. “Having a proven track record of conceptualising and managing AHRC-funded projects was definitely a big help in getting this grant.

“AHRC funding has allowed me to meet colleagues in different formations and locations around the world, to build networks and learn from each other, and I have had the opportunity of meeting colleagues that I may never have met otherwise.

“I really want to emphasise that we need institutions like the AHRC. It’s not just about financial resources, it’s about having an organisation that looks after our needs at different points in our careers and provides an overarching structure that helps us achieve our goals.”

About Professor Kabir

Ananya Jahanara Kabir, Professor of English Literature at King’s College London, is a literary and cultural historian who works on memory, embodiment, and post-trauma in the global South. She has also taught at the Universities of Cambridge, California (Berkeley), and Leeds. She is the recipient of The Infosys Prize for the Humanities (2017), and of fellowships from The Rockefeller Foundation, The British Academy, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). Through an AHRC Knowledge Transfer Fellowship, she co-organised in 2011 ‘Between Kismet and Karma’, a programme of UK-wide events and exhibitions involving female visual artists from South Asia working on conflict. She is the author of Territory of Desire: Representing the Valley of Kashmir (2008), and Partition's Post-Amnesias: 1947, 1971 and Modern South Asia (2013). Currently, she directs the ERC-funded project Modern Moves (2013-18), which investigates African-heritage social dance and music in a global context. Her new project will investigate the transoceanic aesthetic history of ‘African print’/ ‘Dutch wax’ cloth.

Professor Kabir uses English, Bengali, Hindi, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, and various Creoles in her research. In 2018, she will start learning Dutch and Twi. She is an enthusiastic social dancer of various Afro-Latin partner dances including salsa, kizomba, and samba de gafieira.

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