Reforming the ‘Eng Lit’ canon: Measuring the myths and realities of English literary studies in India through a computational analysis of university curricula. :

paper, specified "long paper"
  1. 1. Arjun Ghosh

    Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IIT New Delhi)

Work text
This plain text was ingested for the purpose of full-text search, not to preserve original formatting or readability. For the most complete copy, refer to the original conference program.

The study of English Literature famously commenced not in the metropolis but in the colony – as a result of the Maculayan policies for training of would be Indian civil servants in “what is best worth knowing” through an insight into “English .. tastes, ... opinions, ... morals and ... intellect” (Macaulay, 1835; Viswanathan, 2014). Though intended for the civil servants the policy of an Anglophonic education for India created a hegemony of a western educated middle class that while being subordinated to their European rulers considered themselves superior to the ‘native’ underclass (Bhabha, 1994). The conjoined hegemony of the study of English language and literature persisted post-Independence with the canonical curriculum being retained in almost all Indian universities well into the 1980s – with only texts by British authors – mostly male – being included on the syllabi. The prestige and the opportunities that surrounded English education worked to maintain the preserve of an elite class who controlled the access to India’s top institutions. The rise of postcolonial scholarship gradually altered the syllabi followed by department of English in India – at venturing out of the ‘Brit Lit’canon to include other Literatures in English – but still from within the former colonies of Britain viz. America, Australia, Canada the Carribean and India (Rajan, 1986). 1990s onwards, a series of socio-political shifts saw the widening of the scope and reach of education among the underprivileged communities. A clamour grew among leading scholars to further democratise the curriculum by including texts from languages other than English – literature in the various Indian languages, European literature all in translation, as well as bringing in more texts written by women, dalits and black authors (Trivedi, 1995).
The current assessment undertakes a large data analysis of the current state of curricula followed by various departments of English in India institutions. The texts were classified according to their dates of publication, the gender and country of belonging of the author and the course titles. In addition to this we also mapped the examination papers for the National Eligibility Test for Lecturership (NET) which is mandatory for all university faculty, the English paper for Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) which is the entrance requirement to the Indian Administrative Services, and doctoral thesis awarded by the chosen universities as available on the ShodhGanga platform. The findings show that the movement away from the ‘BritLit’ canon is not as wide spread as would be believed in the leading scholarship in postcolonial studies (Rajan, 2008; Dutta, 2018), with peripheral institutions still adhering to the canon. Earlier studies that closely looked at syllabi of select universities have focussed on the changes in the syllabi and have failed to emphasize the continued adherence to the canon.
We accessed the PDF files or scans of the syllabi and converted into data tables. Scanned files were converted to digital text using OCR. Further, multiplicity of spellings of authors and texts were standardized and matched to identification data like authro’s date of birth, place or year of publication etc. through a SPARQL query on wikidata. Our study through a large scale statistical and network analysis is able to put the changes in perspective and highlight the unfinished agenda of decolonization and deracialization of literary studies in India. While a handful of universities have diversified the curriculum, even in such universities areas like literature by dalits, women, queer or disabled authors are predominately included in elective courses with core courses displaying greater adherence to the canon. We also find that the spectrum of deviation from the canon is at its lowest end with the NET and UPSC examinations. Given that the NET and UPSC examinations are largely bureaucrat driven instead of being guided by the latest academic research and pedagogy, this points towards a sorry state of academic freedoms in India today. Thus what began as a curriculum designed to establish a racially defined administrative service, continues even today after seven decades of Independence.

Bhabha, Homi K. (1994). The Location of Culture. Routledge.
Dutta, Nandana. (2018). “View from Here – English in India: The Rise of Dalit and NE Literature.” English: Journal of the English Association 67 (258): 201–8.
Macaulay, Thomas Babington. (1835). “Minute on Education.” 1835.
Rajan, Rajeswari Sunder. (1986). “After ‘Orientalism’: Colonialism and English Literary Studies in India.” Social Scientist 14 (7): 23–35.
———. (2008). “English Literary Studies, Women’s Studies and Feminism in India.” Economic and Political Weekly 43 (43): 66–71.
Trivedi, Harish. (1995). Colonial Transactions: English Literature and India. Manchester University Press.
Viswanathan, Gauri. (2014). Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India, Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition. Columbia University Press.

If this content appears in violation of your intellectual property rights, or you see errors or omissions, please reach out to Scott B. Weingart to discuss removing or amending the materials.

Conference Info

In review

ADHO - 2022
"Responding to Asian Diversity"

Tokyo, Japan

July 25, 2022 - July 29, 2022

361 works by 945 authors indexed

Held in Tokyo and remote (hybrid) on account of COVID-19

Conference website:

Contributors: Scott B. Weingart, James Cummings

Series: ADHO (16)

Organizers: ADHO