Let’s Start at the Beginning

It’s a very good place to start.

I first learned about this memorial well’s existence in Mike Altman‘s Religion in Colonial India course in the fall semester of 2015. In order to get a broad sweeping, contextual history for what we would be talking about in the course, the class read the first few chapters of A Concise History of India by Barbara D. Metcalf and Thomas R. Metcalf. The Cawnpore Massacre and the events surrounding it were briefly touched on in the book. But as the semester went on, I kept coming back to it.

What made this memorial similar or different from the memorial for the Black Hole of Calcutta? Why is this memorial only mentioned in passing in almost any source I could find?

So what do you do when you keep coming back to a topic with only more questions? You write about it and try to answer them. So that’s what I did. And then I set the topic down for a year, thinking I’d move on to something else while I began to pursue my Master’s at Florida State University…

But I came back. Now I’m rehashing my old sources, finding new ones, and asking even more questions. On my mind today:

  1. Memorialization may be even more complicated than I initially realized. See all the discussions, protests, etc. surrounding Confederate memorials today. This may mean as well that my research could be even more relevant than I initially realized. For you certainly can discuss things of the past to learn about similar things of today. The Black Hole of Calcutta and Partha Chatterjee’s The Black Hole of Empire are particularly relevant today, but this particular memorial well in Cawnpore can teach us many things as well, and perhaps bring new insights into our discussions surrounding Confederate memorials.
  2. Perhaps this well isn’t a central focus of a ton of heavy scholarly work because a) we think we know everything there is to know about it and b) there are “more important” memorials we could be talking about. I will be talking about the other memorial that resulted from the Cawnpore Massacre in my research — All Souls Church. But I don’t find that site nearly as interesting as the well. That’s a personal choice and I realize that. But it’s also an important academic move. We must always discuss different things rather than rehash old ones. Why? Because that’s how the system works. We, as academics, always strive to make ourselves notable and unique.
  3. There are many directions this research could take me — do I want to talk about the memorial itself and it’s aesthetic evocations of whiteness and gender? Or perhaps the use of space in that the memorial delineated space that white and brown bodies could or could not move around in? What about the space of the location of the memorial itself? After all, the original location of the well later became a park to memorialize local independence heroes.

Wherever I take these thoughts and wherever my research leads, this memorial certainly fits into a larger narrative of which I would never have time to explore all the nuances. But to start, I will once again pick up Andrew Ward’s Our Bones Are Scattered and from there turn to Zoë Yalland’s Traders and Nabobs and Boxwallahs. And somehow, I have to write a thesis proposal by October 16. That’s 39 days from now, for those of you keeping count.

I’ve got some reading to do.