David Boyk

David Boyk

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Research
Dusty books

My dissertation, “Provincial Urbanity: Intellectual Society and Patna, 1890-1930,” argues that scholarly and popular understandings of an urban-rural binary have obscured the distinctiveness and vigor of provincial culture in the galaxy of small cities where most urban Indians lived. By examining the public and intellectual life of Patna, in the north Indian region of Bihar, at the turn of the twentieth century, it demonstrates how cosmopolitan circuits bound this provincial city to its region and the world.

Like many other cities in India, Patna had been marginalized in the nineteenth century, losing much of its considerable wealth and prominence to the colonial port cities. Nonetheless, it maintained a dynamic urban public sphere, exemplified by the Urdu newspaper Al-Punch, which linked Patnaites with readers and writers in nearby towns and distant cities. Patna’s provinciality entered into national politics as the city became the center of a campaign for Bihar’s separation from Bengal; when it became the capital of the new province of Bihar and Orissa in 1912, patterns of community and authority were remolded along with the city’s geography. At the same time as Patna seemed to some to have reversed its decline, new institutions of education and politics reoriented its intellectual society away from the networks that had sustained the provincial public sphere. Both a social history of intellectuals and a cultural history of urban and regional space, “Provincial Urbanity” is the result of a year of archival research in four languages, carried out at numerous sites in India and the U.K.