A mere two weeks after I joined William & Mary in August 2001 as its first historian of South Asia, America was forced to reevaluate its ideological and political position in global affairs. In some ways, the events of September 11, 2001 compelled us all—academics, policy makers, and lay people, both within and outside America—to confront the awful power of the forces of globalization, from which, it was clear, America could no longer consider itself immune. Once the trauma of the events had subsided, it became increasingly apparent that institutions of higher learning had a key role to play in educating the next generation of Americans to become global citizens by engaging at multiple levels with the world.
South Asia has become exceedingly salient in global affairs in the aftermath of 2001. This is in part because of the war in Afghanistan, which has drawn Pakistan, and to a lesser extent, India, into its ambit, and in part because India has emerged as a powerful global economic player in this period. This has greatly influenced my teaching and research on South Asia at William & Mary in the past decade. As a teacher, I strive to place America’s involvement in the region and South Asia’s contemporary politics in a longer historical perspective. My research interests, which focus on Kashmir—the region that has bedeviled relations between India and Pakistan since 1947—and Islam in South Asia more generally, have allowed me to impress on students the necessity of transcending national boundaries in understanding historical and political processes.
The Reves Center for International Studies has been especially active in recent years in developing long-term institutional, faculty, and student ties with India through study abroad programs, faculty exchanges, and seminar series under the auspices of the India Initiative. In 2010, the College won a U.S. Department of Education grant to increase cooperation between Indian and American universities; this year, the Reves Center coordinated the institutional application for the Obama-Singh Knowledge Initiative grant which will allow us to continue these engagements in the longer term.
South Asian Studies has come a long way at William & Mary since I was hired in 2001. Not only do we have South Asianists in several departments, but we now also offer a South Asian Studies minor. I am currently supervising the College’s first South Asian Studies major, self-designed by my student under the rubric of Interdisciplinary Studies. As a South Asian living and teaching in America, I want to continue to inspire students to think of themselves as an integral part of an increasingly interconnected world.
Chitralekha Zutshi is associate professor of history and director of South Asian Studies at the College of William & Mary. She was born and raised in India, educated in India, Europe, and the United States, and is author of Languages of Belonging: Islam, Regional Identity, and the Making of Kashmir. She is currently coordinator of the Reves Center sponsored India Initiative Project.