Research Portal

October 26, 2023

Associate Professor Manish Chalana Embarking on Fulbright-Nehru Fellowship March 2024

Historic preservation (or “heritage conservation” in India) is the practice of identifying, managing, and interpreting the historical record in the built environment. For many people, the resulting presence of these tangible reminders in their day-to-day world plays a major role in shaping their perceptions of who has contributed what to their nation’s development. The magnitude and challenges of these tasks have increased dramatically in contemporary times, as the field has begun to grapple with the complexity of history. This is especially true in the world’s liberal democracies, which express the values of equality and inclusivity. These challenges are not merely academic—as protests and counter-protests over the removal of Confederate statues in the US show, conflicting interpretations of history and their commemoration are something people are willing to kill or die over.

Associate Professor Chalana (Urban Design & Planning) was awarded the Fulbright-Nehru Fellowship to carry out a total of six months of research in Delhi starting in March 2024. Associate Professor Chalana’s project will explore the state of historic preservation in India to understand how inclusive and equitable current practice is. Associate Professor Chalana is particularly interested in exploring how sites associated with underrepresented communities appear in the historical record; among those that do, how they fare on the ground in terms of management and interpretation; and for those whose physical evidence in the landscape is no longer legible, what types of histories and memories have we lost. For the purpose of this project, Associate Professor Chalana will consider all communities outside the category of upper-caste, cisgender male Hindus as underrepresented to varying degrees. However, the primary focus will be on working-class communities, particularly Dalits (the untouchables); religious minority groups with non-Hindu origins, including Muslims, Christians, and Zoroastrians; and women and gender-nonbinary groups.

While Indian preservation practice is expected to fairly represent the contributions of an exceptionally diverse set of peoples to its development throughout many phases of conflict, conquest, and colonization, there is still considerable work to be done. This is especially true in terms of addressing structural biases and colonial framings that have not fully allowed historic preservation to support India’s constitutional pluralism.

The goal of this proposed work is to uncover the extent to which preservation practice in India is addressing this challenge and to identify areas where it can further improve. During previous research and preliminary work (supported by the CBE Research Restart Fund), Associate Professor Chalana discovered that even as historic preservation in India has indeed made significant theoretical and methodological strides since independence, in practice the field has continued to place by far the most emphasis on the histories of dominant and/or elite groups, and still has a long way to go in fully representing its diverse historical record. Associate Professor Chalana plans to build on that work to systematically dive into historical records and databases of historic preservation organizations in order to expand the list of associated sites and identify illustrative case studies for each of the above-mentioned groups. Associate Professor Chalana will supplement the case studies with field surveys and interviews with stakeholders—both preservation professionals and community members.

Associate Professor Chalana plans to broaden the scope of work beyond the National Capital Region (NCR) of Delhi, which was the primary focus of the reconnaissance project supported by the CBE Research Restart Fund. Associate Professor Chalana intends to expand their research to include other regions of the country, aiming to provide valuable insights and lessons for historic preservation practices nationwide. During visits to India scheduled during the calendar year 2024-2025, Associate Professor Chalana will be based at their alma mater, the School of Planning & Architecture in New Delhi. Associate Professor Chalana will actively engage with students and professionals, conducting discussions and workshops on the subject of equity and inclusion in Historic Preservation through guest talks and workshops.

Associate Professor Chalana is hopeful that this work will culminate in a book; an advanced book contract is currently being considered by Oxford University Press.