India – A Historian and Her Archives

As a historian, my experience in the archives has been fascinating, confusing and illuminating, often all together. A Historian and Her Archives

Urvi Desai

“Excuse me, sir,” I asked, trying to get the attention of the staff member at the Maharashtra State Archives, a public archive located in the heart of South Bombay. I had just spent several moments pacing up and down the dark corridors stacked with piles and piles of cloth-bound files and was making no headway in my search. I continued despite the silence in response, “Could you please direct me to the section with the Times of India newspapers from the 1930s onwards?” I waited in anticipation.

“Tumi kaun?” he finally responded, peering from behind a shelf. This meant, “Who are you?” in Marathi. Switching quickly from English to Marathi, I introduced myself as a PhD student with McGill University working on the history of birth control in India.