New York’s Columbia University, one of the world’s leading academic institutions, will open a multi-purpose India centre in the city in March, Nicholas Dirks, professor of history and anthropology at the university and its vice-president for the arts and sciences, said on Thursday.
The centre will be a resource both for the university’s faculty and students who want to do research or internships, as well as for institutions, alumni and student applicants in India.
It will facilitate collaborations in architecture, journalism, international affairs, law, humanities, etc.
The centre will be a site, a venue, where different kind of projects will take place, said Dirks, who is in the city for a variety of reasons, including giving the University of Mumbai’s first G.S. Ghurye Memorial Lecture. It is meant to be a resource. It will help Columbia establish a greater presence in India.
Many leading US universities have been trying to do this in recent years, but Dirks said that Columbia was unique in some ways. First, it has had a long relationship with India, he said, pointing out that the first Indian to get a Phd degree from the university was B.R. Ambedkar, who took a doctorate in sociology and developed some of his ideas on caste there. In a way, Columbia was the birthplace of some of his original ideas, Dirks said.
Moreover, since then, the university has invested extensively on work on India and now has more than 50 scholars across disciplines working primarily on the country, he said.
Himself a scholar of India and caste and the author of two influential books on the subject, Dirks has been instrumental in the expansion ever since he became vice president at the university five years ago.
The centre’s first activity will be a water management project on sustainable development run by the university’s Earth Institute, headed by economist Jeffrey Sachs.
The possibilities are immense. For instance, Professor Sheldon Pollock, a Sanskritist and arguably one of the world’s most important historians of Indian intellectual history, wants to run workshops on pre-modern literary history and tradition, Dirks said.