Why I Felt Out of Place at the World History Conference


Mr. Furnish, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor, World History, Georgia Perimeter College.

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Two weekends ago I managed to attend some of the panels at the World History Association (WHA) conference, in-between grading for my three summer world history courses, working on a book proposal and--most importantly--pulling Mr. Mom duty for our two small sons.

Since I teach at a community college, it had been a number of years since I last attended a WHA gathering. Sifting through the program, and aiming to optimize my attendance, I finally decided to attend panels on Islamic Art, Literature and Travel, Edges of Premodern Christendom, Gandhi in World History and a more methodological offering, Conceptions of World History.

I must confess I pointedly skipped presentations with titles such as Coding Cattle and Revising History, Marx, Gurdjieff and Mannheim: Contested Utopistics of Self and Society in World-Historical Context, Different Markets: the Divergence of the U.S. and French Bicycle Markets, 1894 (1899)-1910 (you mean Franco-American differences started before Bush became president?) and Are We What We Wear? Clothing and World History. (Actually, I think a good guideline for academic conferences is to eschew anything with "postmodern," "gender," "subaltern" and/or "Said"--as in Edward--in the title.) But to paraphrase J.R.R. Tolkien: some who attend academic conferences find my preferred topics "boring, absurd or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similiar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer." Perhaps that makes me a Neanderthal (albeit an educated one) in the eyes of many of you readers, but I'm too busy teaching my students about what actually happened in world history, and grading their essays thereupon, to obsess about arcane topics and theory.

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There were some very interesting and worthwhile papers presented at the panels I attended: Stephen Gosch's (University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire) on Muslim travelers before Ibn Battuta; A.J. Andrea's (University of Vermont) on the Crusades as global phenomena; Deborah Smith-Johnston's (ABD, Northwestern) on conceptual frameworks for teaching world history. And for the most part my sensitive (some would say borderline paranoid) conservative antennae detected only the faint static of political correctness and lefist cant.

Until I went to hear about Gandhi.

The paper presentations on the great Indian nationalist leader were informative, particularly Howard Spodek's (Temple Univeristy) on "Gandhi: From Gujarat to the World," which explained how Gandhi built on Gujarati traditions, especially that of shaming those in power when they were lording it over others, to confront the British. After this discussion, and one by Ane Lindvendt (McDonough School, Baltimore) on a survey of online sources about Gandhi, the America- and Bush-bashing began.

The august chair/discussant of this panel, Dr. Mark Gilbert of North Georgia College and State University, segued from "Eight Ways to Use Gandhi in World History" into the following absurd analogy: like in Gandhi's time, opponents of the American administration are "being beat into submission" and "called anti-patriotic [sic]" by a "hegemonic opponent." (OK, now I have another buzz word to avoid in panels: "hegemonic.") I hurriedly reviewed my program, thinking I had inadvertently stumbled into a Howard Dean campaign stop, or perhaps an Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial board meeting. Beat into submission? I let it pass, theorizing to myself that perhaps Professor Gilbert, living even farther north in Georgia than me, had become, against his will, a Dixie Chicks fan and thus unable to differentiate between actual censorship and the market reaction of livid country music fans out there in red America (the parts that didn't vote for Al Gore).

A bit later, however, a discussion of volunteerism in Gandhi's ideology sparked the discussant to opine that American students should be apprised of this element "because our government, in the future, will be less interventionist, and more libertarian." Less interventionst? Can someone say Iraq? Liberia? As if the Bush Adminstration, being pilloried by conservatives for increasing domestic spending to new heights, hopes to bring back soup kitchens? And just what does this have to do with Gandhi, anyway? Last time I checked, my church was doing a fine job of enlisting its youth membership to volunteer for every cause under the sun. What say we stick to Gandhi's place in world history, and how best to communicate that to our students? Is that too old-school?

The panel wound down with a debate over which lefist icon Gandhi most resembled: Che Guevara? Marx? Nelson Mandela? Susan Sarandon? (OK, I'm kidding about the last one.) Wishing to put a bit of stick about, I finally spoke up, addressing a serious (but admittedly provocative) question to Professor Spodek: "isn't it possible to see anti-Soviet activists such as Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel in a Gandhian vein, too?" No sooner had the words left my mouth than a grad student (easily identifiable by his glaring sartorial ignorance, manifested by a fetching socks-and-Birkenstocks motif) butted in with "Well, they became millionaires and Gandhi didn't, HAR HAR HAR!" Leaving aside the rudeness of butting (and I mean that literally) in, what was the relevance of such a remark--even if true? The point, I have little doubt, was simply to belittle my contention and to keep Gandhi purely as the property of the Left--or at least the left attending that panel.

Much ado about nothing, you say? Perhaps. But I, for one, wish academic conferences could be venues for debating ideas free from the casual, and arrogant, assumption that all present must share a distaste for a Republican administration. I yearn for a day when history panels (and their attendees) are judged by the content of their presentations (and comments), not the correctness of their ideology.

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More Comments:

Mara Shalhoup - 2/13/2007

Hello. This is probably a long shot, but I'm wondering if anyone knows how to reach Jennifer Schlacht (one of the posters in this thread) -- or might have taken a class with the professor she mentioned, Dr. Ken Hockman. I'm writing a newspaper story about Dr. Hockman and would love to talk to students who enjoyed his teaching. Please email any leads you might have to mara.shalhoup@creativeloafing.com. Thanks for your help!

Lorraine Paul - 2/5/2007

Another bit of advice from me. Never, ever open your mind to new concepts or new ideas. Never, ever be prepared to look at an alternative viewpoint. Never, ever be prepared to argue "for" that point of view. Never, ever try to learn something 'different' to what you have always believed to be true.

If you do all of the above, you WILL have wasted your money.

How do you think humanity progressed? By sitting around and admiring what they already knew? K

I advise you to keep well away from any higher learning establishment because if you are going there to have reinforcement for what you already believe, you could be in for a dreadful shock to the system..

Lorraine Paul - 2/5/2007

Ummm The real Cato wasn't anything to do with TV.

I hope Dr Furnish isn't teaching you Roman History!!

Lorraine Paul - 2/4/2007

Not only a nice riposte, but a factual one! LOL

Carrie Jean Richardson - 12/5/2006

I resent that. I'm also a student of Dr. Furnish's and he does not teach for children- he's a college professor. (Spare me the "I'm trying to round up the bleeding liberals and everyone else who might hate this guy just because by throwing out the "Think about our kids!")
I'm far from being a child, a few good years over "being legal", as well as a person that holds down a forty hour a week job and still manages to attend class- full time for both. SO. The next time you come to the board with the agenda to slay somebody, do your research on who the person you are slaying is. I also wouldn't feel a whole heck of a lot of pity for his students, we are just fine thanks, and learning a lot.

Mechelle Nunya Bizzness - 8/3/2005

I have read a few of Mr. Furnish's articles and I have to say I am amazed.

Amazed that this man is supposed to be a role model and teacher for our children and he presents his opinions laced in name calling such as "ignorameous" and "idiots". How mature....*tongue in cheek*

It could be that the reason most colleges seem to lean towards the "left" is because studies have shown that most intellectuals are liberals. Maybe there just aren't enough conservatives that measure up to Ivy League or collegiate standards.

Jennifer Schlacht - 5/7/2004

Dr. Timothy Furnish is an awesome history teacher over at Georgia Perimeter college and I am actually in his class this Spring 2004 term.

Some other great teachers who have influenced me greatly there have been Dr. Ken Hockman (teaches American) Literature and Dr. Christian (teaches Philosophy).

So any of you who think Dr. Furnish is whining about attending a WHA conference are full of blaaaaaaaaaaaah!!


mark ainslie simons - 2/5/2004

why not? I'm pretty sure Gandhi would be up for some Bush bashing...

mark ainslie simons - 2/5/2004

"I saw a Republican administration in the U.S. equated with a colonial British one in India 60 years ago. And do you honestly think that if we were living under a Gore administration the same sorts of comments would have been forthcoming?"

do you think if we were under a Gore administration that America would be occupying iraq like a colonial power?

Tim Furnish - 9/23/2003

Prof. Gilbert,
I never said that the panel on Gandhi was not useful or informative; it was, very much so. But I just get tired of the subtle and not-so-subtle Bush- and conservative-bashing that goes on in the academy, and I thought a panel on Gandhi was not exactly the most appropriate venue for such.
Tim Furnish

Marc Gilbert - 8/28/2003

Marc Jason Gilbert

Tim Furnish’s recent account on history.net (http://hnn.us/articles/1570.html) of the 2003 World History Association meeting in general and, in particular, its Gandhi in World History panel (which I chaired), happily reminded me of the “gonzo journalism” of Hunter S. Thompson. It also reminded me of my promise at the end of that very successful panel (judging at least from the post-panel applause and discussion) to disseminate the ideas and resources shared there as widely as possible. I hope to honor this promise by the following necessarily brief discussion of its origins, record of its proceedings, and their massive, but user-friendly list of sources for classroom use.

The panel “Gandhi in World History” arose out of a complaint of mine voiced at the NCSS meeting in Phoenix the previous fall that panels at conferences are too often split into one of two categories: teaching and scholarship. WHA President Ralph Crozier was kind enough to challenge me on the spot to chair a panel at the WHA 2003 meeting that transcended this perceived divide! A panel one Gandhi seemed well suited for this for this experiment. The panelists of the WHA Gandhi session were those who responded to my call for papers on H-World. An account of the panel proceedings, including papers presented, follows. Teachers looking for traditional format texts and reading lists that may assist in syllabi/lesson plan preparation may also wish to examine the “Gandhi and Mao: A Comparison of Two Twentieth Century Leaders” unit on comparative leadership in the 20th century produced for the schools by the National Center for History at UCLA available at http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/nchs/world5.html. I have appended toward the end of this file a list of accessible books on Gandhi in world history. See also:

http://www.oswego.edu/~forbes/482.pdf Geraldine Forbes’ superb Seminar on World History: Gandhi and Non-Violent Strategies for Change
http://faculty.winthrop.edu/haynese/syll/gandhi.html Edward Haynes’ equally impressive course.
http://www.piiecl.pdx.edu/hi/graduatedegrees/int410u_winter03.pdf Compares Gandhi and Zapata.
http://www.ilstu.edu/~sbasu/History%20268.htm (Gandhi and Gandhianism).
http://www.catalog.ucsb.edu/LS/gps.htm (Global Peace and Security syllabi)

See also standard course syllabi on Gandhi such as:


An at-a-glance-list of books on sale about Gandhi can be found at: http://www.gandhiserve.

Gandhi in World History: The WHA Panel

The panel opened with a “scholarly” presentation by Howard Spodek that examined many of the roots and applications of Gandhian strategy. His comments were supported by reference to a now classic article he wrote on Gandhi, H, Spodek, “On the Origins of Gandhi’s Political Methodology’, _Journal of Asian Studies_, 30, l971, pp. 36l-372. Another contemporary and parallel approach to this topic can be found in A. L. Basham, ‘Traditional Influences on the Thought of Mahatma Gandhi’, in R. Kumar (ed.), _Essays on Gandhian Politics_ (1971) pp. 17-42.

Paper: "Gandhi: From Gujarat to the World"

Howard Spodek
Department of History
Temple University
Phone & voicemail: 215-204-8915

Some of the comments I will be making today are based on an article I published on Gandhi many years ago (1971) in the Journal of Asian Studies. A copy of the published article can be obtained from me or the panel’s chair on request. The article was not written with a world history audience in mind, although that audience was not missing even in 1971. The point for the Atlanta audience is this: Gandhi immediately comes to mind as a personality formed through wide experience in diverse corners of the world--although all of them were part of the British Empire: India, England, and South Africa. What is less discussed is how his experiences in growing up in Gujarat influenced his political methods. Even when these influences are discussed they usually focus on the nature of Gujarat society: business-oriented, with prominent attention paid to businessmen and their interests, and also many voluntary associations reflecting a society willing and able to address its problems and create the institutions necessary for coping with them.

In reality, Gujarat has several regions, each with its own culture and, to some extent, even its own dialect. Gandhi did not grow up in mainland Gujarat, where business and voluntary traditions are so prominent. He grew up in Kathiawad (also called Saurasthra) the western, peninsular part of the state. Here ruling landlord-princes were the dominant groups. People seeking to protest state policies worked out their own techniques. Among them were "sitting dharna," sitting in front -----of the rulers palace/home quietly -- and perhaps fasting -- asserting their cause and hoping/expecting that the prince would pay attention, and be pressured to pay attention. Another, more dramatic approach, was to commit "traga," flagellating oneself to draw even more attention to one's protest. Such methods were used also in smaller-scale personal disputes, including domestic disputes.

My argument is that Gandhi learned of these methods as he grew up in the Kathiawad peninsula -- born in Porbandar, schooled in Rajkot. His father, carrying out a long-standing family tradition, was a political adviser to princes of Kathiawad. Part of Gandhi's genius was to take this method of protest learned in his home and his home region and to refine it for use against the British Empire. I am hoping the panelists and the audience will reflect on this interplay between local, personal traditions and the requirements of global action.

Part of the task of world history, it seems to me, is to see this interconnection. Perhaps others may cite other examples of the use of local, sometimes obscure, traditions to influence much larger arenas. To some degree this will be obvious in, say, the development of world music, and perhaps
art. To what extent are there similar patterns in world politics?

The article concludes, incidentally, with a note on Gandhi's successes and failures within India, noting communities that accepted his leadership, and others that did not. Sometimes local methods are accepted because outsiders recognize their legitimacy and power. Sometimes they are rejected because outsiders reject these claims.

Paper: “The Essential Gandhi: A Survey and Evaluation of the Available Primary, Secondary and Electronic Sources on Gandhi for Classroom Use.”

Ane Lintvedt
History Department
McDonogh School
Owings Mills, MD 21117

My title is perhaps more ambitious than I am prepared to do today! I will tackle a related, daunting problem: how to teach students to find and use the most accurate as well as most current research into their research papers and projects.

First there are the texts: by necessity they have to abbreviate information, of course. Their information is not always current, and there is not always a “specialist” on the author list to make sure that the interpretation of the information has not changed significantly. Then, of course, there is the more perplexing question of how one weaves an individual into a World History survey: my guess is that no one wants to do a “Great Men in History” course anymore (I hope), but then, where does one put the great individuals?

When I looked at 5 of the most commonly-used texts on the AP or college intro level, information on Gandhi and his involvement in political independence of India is always covered, and he is always recognized as being one of the 20th century’s greatest, or most charismatic leaders. These texts varied in depth-of-analysis, and to what causes (or what complex of causes) they associate Gandhi.

Howard Spodek’s _The World’s History_ uses Gandhi as a central touchstone for exploring India’s political, cultural and social reform movements of the early-20th century. It has one of the most detailed and nuanced treatment of Gandhi in a variety of contexts, as does Peter Stearns’ et. al, World Civilizations, co-authored by two world historians, Marc J. Gilbert and Michael Adas, who like Spodek, have done fieldwork in India. The latter work addresses Gandhi largely in the context of the global nationalist struggles, with particular attention to analyzing Gandhi’s appeal to many different social classes in India. Nehru’s relationship with Gandhi is also explored. Richard Bulliet’s The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History_ deals briefly with Gandhi’s social ideas, and has a nice inset on Gandhi’s use of the spinning wheel as a symbol for Indian self-reliance, and economic and political independence from western materialist culture. Jerry Bentley and Herbert Zeigler’s Traditions and Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past weaves Gandhi’s political and social movements into their larger narrative of early- and mid-20th century resistance movements, scattering references to him among several different discussions. They emphasize his opposition to the partition of India. Lanny Fields’ The Global Past_ has only two sentences about Gandhi, both in the context of the nationalist struggles.

If a student or a teacher has access to these 5 books, one could get a pretty good overview of the basic tenets of Gandhian political and even social philosophy. Not much more than that, however. Document sets and collections found in world history readers produce a similar spread of coverage; the difference with Document collections is that they can be supplemented by what can be found on computers in terms of primary and secondary sources, and that’s where I want to take you next.

When I “assigned” a 5-page paper on Gandhi, and then asked students where they would go first, they all said “Google.” The AP students then said they’d check the databases to which the school subscribed; the regular students replied, “What data bases?” They all would go to a computer first: not the text, not their notes, not the doc. reader. There is simply no way to convince them otherwise: forbid it, warn them, have funny explanations why it’s not the best place to access reliable scholarship instantly– no good. Bob Bain, U of M, has written on the importance of knowing what prior knowledge and what academic baggage kids bring into our classrooms. Kids believe computers hold the most current knowledge. Therefore it behooves us to know what’s out there in cyberspace when we issue assignments. Unfortunately, this puts many of us in a position of being less adept than our students do. Nonetheless, it is our responsibility to teach them how to use or not to use historical information in cyberspace.

I make no claims for being good at this: it’s a reluctant conclusion on my part. I get lost in cyberspace. Chances are, however, that in 10 years, we, like scientists, will publish new research on the web before it appears in print. We may as well get used to it now. So if I’m assigning a paper on Gandhi, what I would do is remind the students to use their texts, suggested readings, and then give them a list of websites that I (or one of the techies, or my colleagues) had found on the subject that I have vetted/ checked for reliability of authorship.

Some texts, like the Stearns text World Civilizations, have websites with their suggested readings lists at the end of the chapter. These are goldmines! The Stearns text Web Resources section on Gandhi includes:

and http://www.pbs.org/weta/forcemorepowerful/india/satyagraha.html. Includes materials on the winning of India’s independence, Gandhi’s last years, and his assassination.

http://www.pbs.org/weta/forcemorepowerful/classroom/resources.html, http://www.transnational.org/forum/Nonviolence/Nonviolence.html, http://nonviolenceinternational.net/seasia/Learn_%20nonviolence/Index.htm,
and http://edition.cnn.com/WORLD/9708/India97/india/gandhi.legacy/.
These sites explore Gandhi’s legacy for other non-violent movements.

Then what? I did as the students do – I went to Google. Then I also consulted people more expert than myself: one of our techies did some digging, and several historians came responded to my email requests for help as well. What I’d like to present are some rather surprising conclusions – surprising to me, at any rate; which is that out there in cyberspace are amazing primary and secondary sources on Gandhi IF one can find and recognize them.

Google: when one goes to Google.com, and types in Gandhi as a search subject (what my students would do), one gets pages of lists of sites that contain a mention of Gandhi. (Searching “Gandhi-history” gets 72 sites alone.) There is no way to tell how scholarly or reliable they are without going into the site. ( “.edu” is no guarantee: it could be a student paper posted to a class website.)
From that list of 72, I found 3 that have substance for a student researching about Gandhi (all Indian sites):

http://www.mkgandhi.org (sponsored by the Gandhian Research Organization in Bombay). Out-of-date articles; few photos; good epigrams.

http://www.mahatma.org.in/index.jsp (sponsored by the Mahatma Gandhi foundation). Good photos; 2 video files; good links; Lord Mountbatten’s speech about Gandhi; no articles.

http://www.mkgandhi-sarvodaya.org (Gandhi Museum and Library). Has a dozen or more small articles on philosophy and speeches; a good chart on Satyagarhas; both a photo and an article section are under construction.

Other sites particularly devoted to Gandhi are:

http://www.mkgandhi.org/related.htm has a very nice set of links --- probably
the best I saw, and they almost all functioned and seemed substantial,
including one from the National Information Centre (http://www.nic.in) which had
several thousand docs, although it was a tough site to get around.

This is part of the History and Theory of Anarchism site; biography, bibliography, rather out-of-date commentary; links to other Gandhi sites were not functioning half the time I tried to access them.


In this area, the web is particularly rich. And for students, it’s not such a minefield of scholarly reliability: if it’s a primary source, you can use it. If you allow (or require) your students to submit papers via email, they can imbed the sound clips right in the paper. (Another possibility is to assign PowerPoint presentations, and the kids particularly like this and find it interesting to do. The analysis parts, however, still are a problem to evaluate):

http://www.mkgandhi-sarodaya.org (as I mentioned above; some good links)
http://www.itihass.com/modern/gandhi-profile.html (profile, timeline, good quotations by Gandhi and others)
http://www.nuvs.com/ashram (Good photos)
http://www.harappa.com (motherlode of 86 newsreel clips of Gandhi)

Secondary sources, Historical Analyses, Smaller/more specific Topics.

This is where the going gets rough. Less experienced students won’t be able to tell what’s a “good” (i.e. reliable, historically accurate, scholarly) source from a bad one. This is where the teachers have to step in and give them some places to start their research, and hope they can follow up from there, either through links to other sites, or (heaven forbid) to books. There is one safe haven: JSOR and MUSE, as we probably all know, are sites that have put many historical journals on-line. The problem is that almost no HS subscribes to these sites. Colleges and universities are in a different boat, and students should be introduced to these sites early on.

Salt March

http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/southasia/History/Gandhi/Dandi.html (includes bibliographical information sending students to books.)
http://www.pbs.org.weta/forcemorepowerful/india (this is linked to a PBS TV series/video production. There are lesson plans, discussion questions, and several useful links.

Amritsar Massacre


Gandhi and the Wider World

This site looks at the RSS party (right-wing Hindu militant organization which is also in part the foundation of the dominant BJP party.)

http://www.fourthfreedom.org (if one searches this site for Gandhi, then clicks the site map to in-depth articles there are articles relating Gandhian philosophies to today’s international political situations, within a site dedicated to nonviolence.)

Conclusion: Websites provide some interesting visuals, audios, primary source documentations that enhance basic content. Websites are useful for basic encyclopedic information, but they seem to be sorely lacking in historical scholarship on smaller issues. (The notable exceptions are the sites on the Salt March and the Amritsar massacre.)

If I were to give my students these sites as part of a research assignment, they could satiate themselves with hunting around on the web. They are still going to have to be sent to libraries. (Require a certain number of sources that are books; limit # of websites). For teachers, one could develop study questions based on some of these sites that would encourage students to be thoughtful about the material presented. The WETA/PBS site is probably a good example of this.”

Paper: "Contextualizing Gandhi in Twenty-First Century World"

Anup Mukherjee
Independent scholar
Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh), India
email: anup_m@myrealbox.com
website: http://www.geocities.com/i3pep

[Although Anup Mukherji was unable to attend the panel and present a paper, the chair offered a summary of its main contention that Gandhi’s weapons of the weak have never been more relevant than today when, according to Mukherji, hegemonic forces such as the old colonial empires have been since replaced by macro-economic forces which possess far more sophisticated means of insuring the benefits of globalization remain out of reach for many of the world’s inhabitants, while reducing the idea of social justice to a luxury poor nations cannot afford. Mukherji’s explanation of Gandhi’s continuing relevance in this post-modern world, while not presented at the meeting, follows. If, as is likely, some of his formatting may be lost in transmission, you can contact him directly and he would be happy to provide the paper as an attachment, which cannot be done on a posting to a Listserv]

Gandhi symbolized many things during his lifetime – a politician, a leader, a freedom fighter, a philosopher, a social reformer etc. However the most popular perception of Gandhi that is remembered by posterity, is his symbolization as an epitome of Peace and Non-Violence. For a world beset with perpetual violence, this is quite natural. The world has always chased peace as an ultimate value, but has never quite reached it. The fact of different societies and polities has been violence, not peace. Violence has continued to torment the human civilization in myriad forms, and seems to be the enduring reality – Peace remains the perennial goal that remains to be achieved.

The world continues to be beset with religious fundamentalism that brings forth a diabolic mix of politics, violence and religious identity. International terrorism with increasing threats of chemical and biological weapons is an ever-looming threat. Civil wars, and violent sub-nationalism threaten to rip apart the nation-states. Nuclear anxieties continue, particularly in the context of terrorism. Once considered to have been a settled issue under UN auspices, foreign invasions continue to torment international politics. Oppressive regimes that suppress its own people are found by dozen. In extreme we also have ‘rogue regimes’ that are a cause of trepidation not only to their own people, but also to the international community. These issues invariably form the world headlines in some form or other.

At a more mundane level, for the individual, the ‘state’ itself has emerged as an institution of oppression through the various instruments of state machinery. Human Rights violation seems to be the order of the day. This is particularly true for states that are either totalitarian rule or where the legal institutions are weak or corrupt.

But violence for the individual is also in subtle forms of oppression. The marginalized sections of the society are used as the rationale for much of the governmental actions in form of development projects – however the benefits rarely reach such sections – or even if they reach, they are few and far between. The poor, the weak, the dispossessed, the ethnic minorities, the tribals etc, continue in many cases to be in situation where in reality, they have less than the citizen rights, or they are unable to make their rights enforceable.

Such oppression is not just a phenomena deriving from governments and its institutions, but is a generalized phenomena where power of technology tend to protect the interests of the powerful, and ignore those of the weak. This gets reflected in form of various denials that gets mediated via the medium of technology – potable water, sanitary facilities, cooking fuel, walkable roads, electricity, education facilities, medical care etc. Absence of these facilities tends to brutalize the society.

Moreover, even the rich transnational corporations have joined governments in having hegemonic ambitions over the individuals. Whether it is control over mass communication or whether it be the question of patent rights over various natural resources, the ordinary mortals always lose out. Also, ‘development’ itself has become a matter of torment for the powerless. Large industrial projects have uprooted people and communities from their ancestral places. But more unfortunately, these industrial projects have left out these communities from its scope of benefits.

The society itself continues to be part of a patriarchal hierarchy that is oppressive. The values of freedom and liberty – even if it has reached the civil society, it has not been embraced by the traditional society in which the bulk of the population resides – whether they are educated or not is really immaterial. This gets manifested particularly in form of a glaring gender-gap that gets reflected in the variance in different variables like nutrition, educational opportunities, medical care, stereotyped social roles etc. This fundamental gender disparity vertically cuts across the different sections of the society.

Concomitant to the gender disparity, the human society is itself hierarchised and a few people tend to control the socio-political structures, while much of humanity continues to live at the bottom of such hierarchies. This gives rise to concentration of resources in fewer hands. This is a sure-shot recipe for social and economic subjugation leading to the widening gap between the rich and poor. This also impacts the issues of Equality, leading to situations of general discontent in the society.

Despite the seemingly rapid seminal changes in the recent times, the world even with its apparent euphoria, did not change for the ordinary mortals- the humble, rule-abiding, powerless individuals and communities. Their own governments were tyrannical and tried to subjugate them by use of the force of the state, even if their issues and demands were genuine and related to survival. Whether it be tyrants or whether it be the liberating forces, the individual is not the concern of any – whether democratic, autocratic, socialist, rightist, puppet, plutocratic, oligarchic or of any dispensation, regimes have tended to take their people and communities for granted – just a resource, perhaps less than that.

All these in totality, as part of the socio-political-economic dynamics of various societies determine the nature of ‘peace’. Gandhi would be at home in dealing such issues and it is very apt to say that his relevance continues even in the twenty-first century. After all, he once said that he had nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills. This paper would attempt to analyze the relation of the individuals and communities with their governments, and try to find whether Gandhi continues to be relevant. Issues of relevance would be examined for the new century, in the context of applicability of Gandhian techniques. At the same time, attempts would also be made to find situations and variables that limit Gandhian techniques.

I would suggest that peace is not a given static value. This means that when we say that there is peace in a given society or a nation, it really conveys nothing. The criteria of peace may be different for different societies and nations. Peace is rather determined by the balance of the various forces – from community to societal to national and international – that actually determines the nature of this balance. For each individual to each society this balance is different. When the balance approximates peace, it is beneficial for the people; when the balance of these factors exists at point opposite to that of peace, then it is perilous for the people. Moreover even when peace exists, the nature of peace might be different. The peace experienced by an Arab refugee in Germany might be totally different to the peace experienced by a Turkish immigrant to USA. The peace experienced by an upper class Africans in his native Nigeria would be totally different to that of working class African Americans of the USA. Thus, the kind of peace experienced by certain sections of people within a given environ might be different from what is experienced by the particular society as an aggregate [chart follows]:
Balance of these variables and how they interact determine the nature of peace. Influencing FactorsAnarchy -------------Order----------------------Hegemony-----------Oppressionß---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------à| || || People and Societies || || || |ß---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------àLiberty----------------Civil Society------------Legitimacy-----------Rule of Law Social ValuesTraditional ValuesPolitical SystemLeadershipEvents (National & International)Economic ConditionLegal System (and its effectiveness)Access to Resources

Peace comes in various shades, and the approaches to it are variegated. Thus, we generally have approaches to peace from direction of social reform, from the side of charity inspired by religion, from the direction of civil rights, from the angle of freedom struggle etc. Gandhi’s approach to peace was a mix of these – from political rights to civil rights to social reforms to freedom struggle. Gandhi’s approach is characterized by mass mobilization, Satyagraha, fasting, dharna (sit in protest), picketing, non-cooperation, civil disobedience, courting mass arrests, and all these concomitant with continuous political education of masses through speeches, pamphlets etc and thereby heightening their political awareness. This is along with trying to bring reforms in the social institutions.

Many countries of Asia and Africa that have come out of colonization, after their independence have faced political situations that has resulted in their being led by dictators. Such dictatorships are not just military rule, but also one party dictatorship that exists in some of the countries. To some extent this has been a colonial heritage that did not let the democratic institutions develop, and instead relied on the elites and the sub-elites as support structures in carrying out the imperial administration that was fundamentally bureaucratic and driven by civil servants. The consequence in these countries has been emergence of governments whether military or otherwise, that are mostly oligarchic and aristocratic. They rule by the potential fear of inflicting violence on its citizens that makes everyone accept such regimes.

Gandhi would speak about the government of his time “…Government is cowardly…[it] takes advantage of our fear of gaols.” In our times, one such country is Burma , where in the political arena Gandhian non-violent struggle is being waged for the objective of attaining democracy under the charismatic leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi against a military junta that rules by brute force.

Suu Kyi’s recognition of Gandhi is based on the premises of moral action with roots in non-violence (ahimsa), fearlessness (abhaya) and autonomy of traditional village structures as greatly relevant to Myanmar. Suu Kyi’s fearless struggle is rooted in an unshakable faith in non-violence; as she says, “Fearlessness may be a gift but perhaps more precious is the courage …of refusing to let fear dictate one’s actions, courage that could be described as ‘grace under pressure’…even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man” Here two things are important – one that Myanmar is a Buddhist country, and that the struggle for democracy is being led by a woman. In South Asia, being a woman adds an added dimension of importance because people tend to trust and perceive women in public offices as more responsible and sensitive. Also, being a Buddhist country, the tradition of non-violence is inbuilt in the peoples mind, meaning that legitimacy for violence and coercion is anyway low. The image of suffering by a (woman) leader who is fighting a military rule is a live source of inspiration and mass mobilization.

In such situation, the Gandhian techniques are very relevant – particularly those of Satyagraha that entails non-cooperation and civil disobedience. But these techniques do not work wonders instantly. Instead, the leaders have to build up the courage of sacrifice among the people. Even in Gandhi’s India, there was a decadal gap before launching of Gandhian movements. These time gaps were used for political education and for political bargaining with the authorities. The Gandhian movements in India entailed an S-T-S strategy (Struggle- Truce-Struggle) . And the move towards freedom was slow, based on building up of democratic structures and institutions through gradual progression. In Burma’s case, freedom exists in democracy. As Suu Kyi writes – “The people of Burma view democracy not merely as a form of government but as an integrated social and ideological system based on respect for the individual.” In some ways, in this context, it’s tiring out the opponent first strategy – the one with more patience would emerge the winner. This would also depend on the organizational ability of the leaders who are fighting for democracy in Burma. This also means that in this political struggle, where patience and forbearance are the hallmark of non-violence, the casualties would be far lower, and the dips in confidence would be minimized. But from such patience and fearlessness, a more enduring democratic nation would emerge.

This non-violence struggle for freedom is significant even for the Islamic regions. Generally, Islam and non-violence does not seem to match. However, during the struggle against the British, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan – the Frontier Gandhi and his Khudai Khidmatgars, had shown that it is possible to incorporate non-violence in a successful political struggle. Anyone aspiring to be member of the Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God movement) – more commonly the Red Shirt Organization, had to take a set of Oath comprising seven statements, of which one was – “I promise to refrain from violence and from taking revenge. I promise to forgive those who oppress me or treat me with cruelty” The motive was – “…to awaken in the Pathans the idea of service and the desire to serve their country…” “The movement spread to all parts of the province [the present NWFP of Pakistan], even among the tribes, and soon it became so popular that jirgas (assembly of elders) and Khudai Khidmatgars were established in every village we visited” This amply shows that the stereotypes regarding certain ethnic groups are flawed, and when given a proper leadership and organization, then peace becomes an enduring value. Pathans who are considered a warring community had been influenced by such ideas so early in the twentieth century (Khudai Khidmatgars were formed in 1928). To re-emphasize, for peace and non-violence to succeed, requires a leadership that has patience and is able to inspire and educate people through charisma as well as organization.

In this context, non-violence pops up interesting examples. In the case of the recent invasion of Iraq by the US and allied troops, in the town of Najaf, when the invading troops tried to go towards a holy Shiite mosque, large numbers of unarmed people gathered on the street that went upto that mosque. These people protested against the army troops going to that mosque. Faced with such large number of spontaneous unarmed civilian protest, these troops had to retreat and decide not to go to that mosque. Here it is important to understand the uniqueness of Gandhian technique. His Satyagraha was in the shape of large number of civilian participation. When so many people had the ‘weapon’ of truth-force, no gun dare confront this truth force. People would rather sacrifice themselves defending this truth peacefully, rather than take up any weapons to counter violence. The truth-force was one of peaceful persuasion, and it continues to remain relevant in any situation of violence or potential violence or threat of violence. The example of Najaf shows that even if such an event is not even remotely Gandhian inspired, the technique works. However, this may be an example of momentary mobilization. From perspective of History, the more valid question that might be asked is – was it possible for people of Iraq to put up a peace resistance in front of the ruthless Iraqi dictator? Similar analogies might be put up regarding societies that have seen ruthless dictators, and a valid question asked whether even Gandhi would be successful in such a situation. My understanding is that Gandhian Peace caters to a particular set of condition. It might not be a panacea to all violence. These conditions would entail:

# Charismatic leadership
# Presence of a political space where leaders are able to mobilize masses
# A political organization that can mobilize masses in different parts of the territory
# Mechanism whereby communication of leaders actually reaches the masses
# Presence of politically aware masses willing to participate and sacrifice

In societies where these are not present, it would be difficult to go ahead with the Gandhian means. This was also reflected in some of the movements launched by Gandhi in the Princely States of India (as in Rajkot), and later on withdrawn by him, as movements in such places did not indicate political space for the Gandhian Peace.

Politically where the situations are not conducive to Gandhian strategy, it is often the case that revolutionary movements gain upper hand. Even though violent revolutionary movements do indicate a fleeting romanticism, it entails huge toll for the common people, and more often than not creates a society where legitimate power is derived from force. This is harmful in the long run – socially, politically, and economically. Whether it is the revolution in Russia, or in China or in Cuba or in other countries, the results have generally been disaster for the people. It also seems strange that all these (violent) revolutions had leftist ideological mooring. The other set of violent revolutions included those led by military people in form of coup d’etat – whether it be in South America or in Africa or in Asia - again interestingly, the military rulers who came in power would call themselves socialist – the ‘fascist’ being a long hated term – yet the autarkic controls of such regimes are unmistakable. However, as these examples of revolutions and dictatorships show - countering state repression with violence might seem to provide short-term succor, but is hardly useful in the long term. Moreover such violent revolutions are not able to create sustainable and stable peace. Violent revolutions only replace one form of repression with other set of repression.

In many ways, Gandhian struggle can be termed as a struggle between institutions. His views and ideas transcend the individual and the personality. The struggle is of peace against violence, of weak against the powerful, of the cause of just against injustice, of choosing democracy and cooperation over force and coercion. An interesting example in this respect is mass non-violent demonstration in Moscow during the 1991 coup attempt, when under the call of Boris Yeltsin thousands of people gathered to demonstrate peacefully against the coup. As Yeltsin spoke from the balcony of Moscow’s White House, “I am convinced that here, in democratic Moscow, aggression of the conservative forces will not win - democracy will”. This struggle for democracy is a theme that is bound to gain greater momentum in the future. Not all such demonstrations have worked. A glaring example is the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing in 1989. However, such struggles even by Gandhian standards are not one-shot affair. Such struggles are mostly long drawn, particularly where the society and the institutions have been insular and have tended to repress its people over decades that the people themselves have been bereft of leadership that can organize such movements. Moreover political repression is physical and psychological. It is necessary to break the cycle of fear.

An example of mix of inspiration of Christian religion and Gandhian techniques was the Civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. As he spoke in his Nobel lecture (1964) s– “…unarmed gallant men and women of the United States have given living testimony to the moral power and efficacy of non-violence… They have taken our whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence”. It is this spirit of firm conviction that one is upholding the truth, and is ready to face any difficulties in pursuing that right path with fearless courage, that leads to success of this method.

Gandhian method has been successfully applied in different situations of contemporary relevance in different parts of the world. In Italy Danilo Dolci, the Gandhi of Sicily, has used Gandhian methods of hunger strikes as a means to draw the attention of governments to the plight of the people – the most famous being of November, 1955 when he undertook a marathon fast for a week to promote building of a dam over Jato River so that the entire valley could be irrigated throughout the year. He also protested against the mafias through his non-violent methods.

In Philippines, in the struggle against the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, Corazon Aquino used a non-violent strategy to overthrow the dictator by use of rallies and marches, mobilizing people that saw many government officials disowning allegiance to Marcos, and defecting to the democracy movement - all these leading to a legitimate civil disobedience that undermined the dictator- it was the triumph of the “people power”. In 1980s, dictatorships were overthrown in the Latin American countries mostly through mobilization of the people without the guns – the truth force being ultimately triumphant over the ‘barrel of the gun’. The lesson being that power did not always flow from the brute force of guns. A similar non-violent strategy was successful in Indonesia, where people fed up with corruption and coercion of the dictator, brought forth democracy that ultimately led to Megawati Sukarnoputri coming to power through democratic means.

On the other side of the coin, it is difficult to assert whether the demise of Soviet and its East European Empire and the events leading to peaceful breach of the Berlin Wall – if that could really be put in the Gandhian framework. Perhaps the demise of Soviet and its East European Empire requires a completely separate frame of analysis, and to suggest that it was a consequence of mere indigenous efforts of the people does not seem satisfactory. While in Poland Solidarity (Lech Walesa) had made headway, and in Czechoslovakia, leader like Vaclav Havel had become influential – yet the political situation doesn’t seem to have become mature enough that the people could have braved another occurrence like that of 1956 or 1968. The whole event was hastened because of Mikhail Gorbachev’s sentiments of Perestroika and his unwillingness to intervene in such situations (‘Sinatra’ Doctrine). The Power of the Powerless written by Vaclav Havel does indicate that the peaceful struggle was in the making in East Europe. Even if the Gorbachev phenomena had not occurred, it would have only been matter of time when East Europe would have erupted against their dictators. As the underground political awareness was an ongoing process, its fair to assert that future political mobilization of the people would have been peaceful.

An example of non-violent struggle that is being waged in the current times, that doesn’t seem to have hopes of success is that of Tibet under auspices of Dalai Lama. But this is not due to any issues of effectiveness of the non-violent strategy per se, but due to various factors- particularly that of the low population of the Tibetans, the unwillingness of foreign nations to take issue with China on this, and also because China is aggressively pushing in development and settlement of non-Tibetans in that region. The situation bears similarity to the middle east – however in the middle east, while the issue of Israel is a settled reality (and backed by USA), while that of Arabs is alive because of the large number of Arabs of different countries supporting the cause, and also because these many Arab countries have an important control over oil resources. The Intifada did contain elements of non-violence (non-payment of tax, strikes etc.), but it did not become the prominent part of the movement. What comes out is that for Gandhian strategy to be successful, it requires large mobilization of people, without which peaceful movements are bound to be suppressed sooner or later. This is also brought forth by the Tiananmen Square events of 1989, which did reflect a repressed want of people – but unfortunately has not been able to translate into a sustained mass movement within the country. Since the “mass” element was absent (throughout that huge country), it was easy to crush the Tiananmen movement.

In this context, it is equally important to know that there are other competing non-violent strategies towards peace, civil-political-human rights, and democracy. These techniques have their own indigenous sources of inspiration. An example of such a movement can be the one in Guatemala where rights of indigenous people, of the Mayas and a movement for democracy and human rights under Rigoberta Menchú Tum is quite separate from the Gandhian ways, though it also aims at similar objectives. Also, in issues of Apartheid in South Africa, Gandhi did have some initial influence, the movement against apartheid took its own path and cannot be put under the Gandhian analytical frame. But what is important in this context is the post-Apartheid event of Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). This involved a full disclosure of Truth with the objective of reconciliation, amnesty and national unity. This is quite similar to what Gandhi had preferred regarding British in relation to India. India shook off the British imperialism, but it did not mean that India bore any enmity to the British. India continued to have good relations with Britain as a nation and also remained in the Commonwealth. A similar sentiment he had regarding the Hindu-Muslim relations in India that saw him ‘combating’ violence alone in the riot torn areas of Bengal, when India was awakening to ‘life and freedom’. He had similarly wished for reconciliation with Pakistan – that ultimately led to his assassination. Such a process of reconciliation is an inseparable part to heal the wounds in a non-violent manner. South Africa has done it successfully. Such process of reconciliation is also pertinent to various countries that are torn by ethnic violence.

Finally, I would like to draw attention to another case where Gandhian Strategy doesn’t seem to have worked. Interestingly it happens in a democratic country like India – where both government and the society both imbibe the democratic spirit. Just that a nation has a constitution and a democratic framework does not mean that the people enjoy the basic civil and human rights. The existence of institutional laws are no guarantee to their effectiveness - and despite of democracy, where there is rampant corruption, where there are kleptocracies, where plutocratic feudal structures functioning outside the civil society exerts its unhealthy influence, and where there are traditional institutions sanctioned by religions that have become part of the conscience of the people, – in such situation to organize a mass non-violent struggle is definitely a difficult task. The basic reason is that technically and legally, in such situations the conflict resolution mechanisms are in place – except that such mechanisms are not functional. Similarly the force of tradition is very difficult to break. Gandhi during his time and situation used the idioms of Hindu tradition in India as he had to work his way through a large mass of illiterate people. In his setting, traditional idioms worked well. But it is not necessary that such idiom would be available in different societies around the world or that given a particular situation such idioms would really work. It is not without reason that when in independent India the religious idiom has shifted to the priorities of religious extremism, its usage in a non-violent mass struggle becomes difficult and ineffective.

Such a thing is exemplified by issues of conflicts that are found in the struggle of indigenous and tribal people with regard to development projects. Invariably, though not always, the indigenous and the tribal people lose out in such struggle. In such struggles, only a particular model of development that involves a lot of public expenditure from single political centres, are considered as the only viable viewpoint. Other competing models of development are simply wished off. Moreover media being under the control of the moneyed and powerful generally take the side of such neoliberal policies. In such situation, to have a self-sustaining struggle for survival of such communities becomes tenuous. An example of such a process is the campaign of Narmada Bachao Andolan that has been led by Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy, the writer-activist. Just putting a synoptic view of this Narmada issue- it involves creation of thousands of dams on Narmada River that winds its way through central India and drains in the Gujarat coast. The biggest of these dams is the Sardar Sarovar. Now, development of this dam meant water for Gujarat – mostly for city areas and regeneration of dry rivers like the Sabarmati in Gujarat. At the same time it involved submergence of large tracts of tribal lands and ousting of these indigenous people from their age-old land. The government figures put the number of oustees to be very low – the 1960s figure. In reality the number was much higher. Even the World Bank withdrew its loan for this project after it found the project to be faulty on grounds of resettlement and rehabilitation of the oustees. In such model of development through big dam, what has happened in this case is that one set of people who are powerless have lost out on their rights to the set of people who are powerful. These people waged a long non-violent struggle that was quite akin to Gandhian Satyagraha to get across their point. However the conflict resolution mechanisms in the constitutional democracy like India worked against their interests – even the highest court of the land did not find anything wrong with the project. The issue largely melts down to two – 1) can a project that benefits a large number of people – would that be development, if that deprives another set of large number of people from their ancestral lands and homes, making much of them homeless and landless labourers? 2) the model of development that we pursue should be by consent not requiring use of state coercion. It was perhaps on such things that Gandhi would oppose the Western Technology. However what was Western during his times, are now local know-how, and the national centers themselves treat its peripheries (the backward regions) as colonies by use of such technologies. In such situations Gandhian strategy becomes quite difficult. The policy makers would not let people live in their ancestral land, the police would not let the protestors give up their lives by immersing themselves in the river, and the institutions would uphold the skewed policies of development. That is perhaps a big pitfall of Gandhian strategy when interests of the powerless clashes with the policies of government that has been technically elected by the very people of the land.


Gandhian thought in various areas, are greatly relevant for the twenty-first century. These issues emanate from issues of empowerment of people and communities, decentralization of power to the people, issues related to technology and sustainable development, issues of religious tolerance vis-à-vis religious fundamentalism, and also of war and pacifism etc. This paper has not dealt with these issues and focussed only on the dimension of non-violence in relation to power centres in different societies and countries. The paper has shown that the non-violent strategy continues to remain relevant and effective. The paper has also indicated that peace comes in various forms, of which Gandhian strategy is one of them. The paper has also attempted to analyse and outline the situations and variables that limit the Gandhian strategy to peace “

Chair’s Comments:

Given Anup’s absence there was time to offer other approaches to the means by which Gandhi can be translated into the world history survey course. As chair, I offered a quick survey of some means—some familiar, some not-- of infusing Gandhi into existing course material:

1. Gandhi as a Victorian. His vegetarianism, interest in craft enterprise and agrarian “small is beautiful” philosophy was akin to other Victorian thinkers such as Ruskin. Florence Nightingale also saw virtue in “ancient India’s republics” and its “500,000” villages. See Stephen S. Hay, ‘The Making of a late-Victorian Hindu: Gandhi in London, 1888-91’, Victorian Studies, 1989, pp. 76-98 and ‘Between Two Worlds: Gandhi’s first impressions of British culture’, Modern Asian Studies, 3. 1969, pp. 305-19; J. D. Hunt, Gandhi in London; S. Ray, (ed.), Gandhi, India and the World

2. Gandhi as a critic of Western industrialization. His “Hind Swaraj” screed is well–known and widely anthologized (see http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/india/indiasbook.html), but Gandhi was a philosopher who was primary concerned with the soullessness of industrial life and its results. There are many readings of Gandhi’s views on technology, not just one. When asked what he thought of Western Civilization, Gandhi was famously said to have replied that it was splendid and that “you British should try it”: meaning that the British in India had greatly departed from its values. Gandhi can be used alongside other such critics. This suggestion led to a comment from the audience that Che Guevara could be similarly used, i.e. Che’s travels in South American and his experience of the overthrow of the Arbenz government of Guatemala led him to voice similar critiques of modern society. That it also convinced him to take the path of violence suggests the variety of such responses—it does not invalidate the comparison.

3. Gandhi as a negotiator for the weak. Gandhi’s “selling out” of the untouchables in 1935-37 and alliances/compromises with social and economic elites is a classic example of the difficulties of faced by nationalists in the colonial era who were often forced to negotiate from a position of weakness. As Stanley Wolpert’s recent book on Gandhi (_Gandhi’s Passion_) demonstrates, this burden was often almost too great to bear. Gandhi’s had greater success on the gender front, one with which, as most of us are familiar, Gandhi himself struggled. Gandhi, the master of political symbolism, did not spend his last years leaning on the shoulders of women—including a young Indira--by mere accident, infirmity or gender preference.
4. Gandhi as a major political ethicist of the 20th century. As Howard Spodek pointed out, Gandhi established that the means of political action were the ends of such action (violent means employed to change a political order rarely produces peaceful political orders). See also Stephen N. Hay, Ethical Politics: Gandhi's Meaning for Our Time_ (1969).
5. Gandhi as exemplar for Martin Luther King (appropriate as the King Memorial in Atlanta --the site of the panel--features not only a large statue of Gandhi, but a Gandhi Room.) King, who was also influenced by Thoreau (and both Gandhi and King drew from the New Testament), learned much from Gandhi’s two-fold objective of Satyagraha—community building as well as political liberation. It was the former that was always Gandhi’s main objective. Some sites addressing the relationship between their ideas and exhibits on this connection can be found at:

http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/about_king/ encyclopedia/gandhi.htm
http://www.mindfully.org/Reform/2003/ Gandhi-Influence-King20jan03.htm

6. Gandhi and Satyagraha in Global Comparative Perspective. Gandhi learned not only from Ruskin, but Count Leo Tolstoy who built an “ashram” of his own. Gandhi also drew on the New Testament and also studied Thoreau, thus linking Asia, parts of Europe and the United States. His views on civil disobedience are thus useful for teaching world history. See http://dfong.com/nonviol/basicsat.html, http://meadev.nic.in/Gandhi/satyagrahya.htm, and http://
theosophy.org/tlodocs/NonViolentResistanceAndSocialTransformationI.htm. A Libertarian’s view of satyagraha at http://www.friesian.com/gandhi.htm. A Tibetan perspective is offered at http://www.quasar.ualberta.ca/cpin/cpinfolder/papers/tibet.htm. A Palestinian nationalist view can be found at http://www.mediamonitors.net/arjan7.html. Reports on the on-going Narmada dam satyagraha can be found through a google.com search or at http://narmada.org/events/satyagraha-2000/.

7. Gandhi’s Indian National Congress as model for decolonization movements. His leadership of the Indian National Congress as an inclusive nationalist umbrella presenting a united front against foreign and internal oppression was by no means universally successful, but it was successful enough to spawn the African National Congress and a host of anti-colonial movements who sought to emulate the INC’s success.

8. Gandhi and Maya. Gandhi is most useful as a touchstone for critical thinking because virtually every aspect of his life and work is complex and, like Walt Whitman, is both large and encompasses multitudes while also being full of contradictions. Like the parts of the proverbial elephant Maya, whose physical features, when touched by a group of blind men, led each to think they were addressing a rat (its tail) a tree (its leg and foot) etc. Gandhi can be made to serve a variety of illuminating ends, but only so long as one does not create an essential Gandhi for which the instructor has an affinity or dislike. Then the student is merely “told” of the meaning of Gandhi, which is not learning at all, let alone good teaching. We should let students find their own essential Gandhi. He would like that. The new CD-Rom collections of his massive written output make it possible for any students at undertake her or his own exploration of Gandhi. It is possible to learn more about these resources at several web sites:


Some books on Gandhi as seen in a broad perspective and accessible to students are:

Gandhi Today: The Story of Mahatma Gandhi’s Successors, Mark Shepard
Gandhi's Way: A Handbook of Conflict Resolution, Mark Juergensmeyer (best starting point)
Gandhi’s Power: Nonvi

Cato - 7/27/2003

Give me a break. First you claim to detect a problem, and then you stomp around with outrage when I respectfully suggest that you, and not somebody else, might help solve it. Next, you announce that you just might try to contribute to a solution. Now you claim that your five classes per semester (would that be about 1 class every three weeks or so?) is more important than the problem about which you yourself whined at the start of this. A union grievance officer couldn't do better than this. In case you did not know, it turns out that hard work actually involves working hard.

Derek Catsam - 7/27/2003

Tim --
But how quickly the right forgets. I recall equal meanspiritedness against Clinton for eight years from ideologues as blind in their hatred of Clinton as many on the left are blind in their hatred of Bush. Did this happen at history conferences? No. But it happened in other areas, at other conferences, where the skew was more right than left. Perhaps a return to civility, a move away from politics as ad hominem attack, might make the American political dialogue a little more palatable, and might make for some actual cooperation between left and right. In many ways Bush is paying the price for what many of his colleagues on the right spent eight years doing to Clinton.

Tim Furnish - 7/25/2003

Cato, I teach five classes per semster. Some history professors don't teach that much in two years. And frankly teaching is much more honest work than putting together panels.

Cato - 7/24/2003

I am glad to see that you decided to act on my recommendation that you stop your whining, put together a panel of your own, and do some honest work for a change.

David Salmanson - 7/23/2003

Well, you know us northerners. We're quick to take offense at everything. I'd totally groove on doing a panel with you, how about "Western History: World History what can they teach each other? or something like that but catchier.

Tim Furnish - 7/22/2003

I wasn't "snippy." Sarcastic, maybe. Even droll. But snippy?
I thought that was a Mick Jagger quote.
Oh boy, my head nearly explodes at the thought of WHA-types in Vegas. But come to think of it, my in-laws live there so I just might go.....maybe we could put together a panel on Elvis as the Mahdi (the Islamic "messiah")?

David Salmanson - 7/22/2003

I have a sense of humor. And I spent ten years in grad school and never landed a tenure track job. As my mother always told me, "If they can't take a joke, [expletive deleted] 'em." Mom still has a foul mouth even though she is a woman of a certain age. But you kind of undermined the sentiments of the Tolkein with the snippy "I'm only interested in important things" spiel. The other WHA (that is the Western History Conference) is in Las Vegas in 2005. Now that's gonna be a fun conference!

Tim Furnish - 7/21/2003

Wow.........more disrespect toward Georgia colleges....I'm shocked, shocked.......
I'm not the arbiter of anything, other than when my kids go to bed; didn't I point that out in my Tolkien quote?
Next year I'm doing a panel of the lack of a sense of humor among academics........

Jonathan Dresner - 7/21/2003

Prof. Furnish,

You're right that conflict predates the nation-state (which really isn't much older than the 18th century anyway, at least in clear conception). But the essence of the progressive distate towards the nation-state is the idea of progress: we should be able to outgrow the tribalism, of which the nation-state is one of the most firmly institutionalized version (outside of religion, I suppose), which is the basis for so much irrational conflict.

Nation-states do not "cause" warfare. But they promote unity based on ahistorical mythology and psychological manipulation which promotes conflict with "others"/"outsiders", i.e., other nation-states with different mythologies and internal minorities who don't share the dominant mythology.

It is a pathological model. Just because it isn't the *only* cause of problems doesn't mean that it isn't problematic.

David Salmanson - 7/21/2003

Look, I'm your typical raging leftist academic but even at conferences that are hotbeds of leftist discourse, (think American Studies Association) I'd be happy to go to as many good panels as Furnish saw. The fact of the matter is, that Furnish saw three good panels, five good papers and one jerk and one grad student were snarky and stupid. Comapred to your average day of watching television that's a great day. Compared to reading academic books and articles that's still a pretty good day.
I'm also surprised that Furnish dissed the bicycle industry panel. While he might find it boring, business historians might be aching for some of the insights that a comparative study of a small industry might provide. Perhaps the sources there are really good and the author was able to develop some new ideas as to state funding vs. private enterprise or relationships with labor unions. Not having attended, I can't tell, of course. But then, neither can he. Why he is the arbiter of what people should find interesting?

Let's remember that the offending parties were a) a grad student (and since when is there a dress code for non-presenters?) b) the person with the least prestigious and worst job of any he mentioned (IMHO teaching at a really good independent school in the Baltimore area is better than North Georgia whatever).

David Salmanson
PS The Dixie Chicks sold out in Philly and remain hugely popular despite the fact that Clear Channel Communications the corporate owners of the only country radio station here have had a ban on playing them without any outcry from the local populace demanding it. But then, they needed to be in bed with the Bush administration to get further deregulation of the radio industry accomplished.

PPS All that said, I agree (as usual) with Ken H. I get to go to one conference a year (if it is not in Philly) and I pick them based on where it is and which of my friends are going. My favorites are the Western History Association and American Historical Association-Pacific Coast Branch. Nice folks, usually good cities (WHA Lincoln was pretty much a loss, see Ken's rules above)and a guaranteed fun time for all.

Josh Greenland - 7/21/2003

"He demonstrates that man's inhumanity to man long predates the European creation of the nation-state."

Does any seriously argue that it doesn't? I thought everyone knew that the time of city-states was a time of wars, empires and slavery.

Tim Furnish - 7/21/2003

For those political scientists and historians enamored of "transnational progressivism" and who seem to think that nation-states cause warfare--I suggest you take a look at Steven LeBlanc's "Prehistory of Warfare" in the May/June issue of "Archaeology." He demonstrates that man's inhumanity to man long predates the European creation of the nation-state.

Jonathan Dresner - 7/21/2003

I'm not convinced that "transnational progressivism" (whatever that is) is really what drives the WHA, but it is true that political scientists, historians and activists have been declaring the end of the nation-state for decades, if not a full century, now. The concept of the "nation" as the basis for the state has serious problems, historically (there are not now, nor have there ever been, any pure nations) and it seems rationally doomed.

What do they want? Peace, which seems highly unlikely as long as people draw highly artificial lines between themselves and others and cling to historical prides and hurts that have no relevance in the present but which serve to make peace, even coexistence, unlikely. Utopian, yes. I'm one of them, but I know that the "endgame" is a long way off.

I could quote all kinds of thinkers and activists over the last century talking about the atavistic and unstable nature of nations and nation-states. And they're right, but that doesn't mean that it isn't still a powerful, very real, force in history.

I'm not sure the US qualifies as a nation-state: it does have a powerful binding mythology, but lacks the ethnic unity to make it a nation in the technical sense. More often, the US and EU are cited as examples of the path beyond nation-state thinking.

Josh Greenland - 7/21/2003

"As for the particular bias at WHA, it is the bais of transnational progressivism, as John Fonte terms it. A belief that the field's duty is to denigrate the nation-state, in particular THIS nation-state. No matter that the nation-state is still the only real game in town, for good or ill"....

If the transnational progressives are against the nation-state, what would they see in its place? Or do they have any idea what they want?

Jonathan Dresner - 7/20/2003


I certainly know what you mean about studying history later in life: older students are my favorites because of the greater perspective and concrete understanding of the world they bring to the classroom. Plus, they are usually there more or less voluntarily, not because mommy and daddy said "go to college and we'll pay for it", so they have an investment in their own education. They understand how long a decade is, and they get more of my jokes. Almost every teacher I've talked to has said the same thing.

Frankly, if our institutions of higher education are "breeding grounds" of left/liberalism, they're doing a miserable job of it. There certainly seem to be plenty of conservative students, faculty, administrators and graduates around. There are really only a few fields in which there is much leftist politicization possible, though history certainly is one of them. (the most popular major at the schools I've taught at is Business/Economics, where the profs are very rarely leftists) But that doesn't mean that you should give up.

Caveat Emptor: let the buyer beware! Check your potential professors' book lists (you're looking for Zinn: avoid him), and ask their students what kind of teachers they are (if your school has a conservative students' group, they'll probably let you know exactly where your prof stands and how they teach). Don't be put off by the first "PC" terms: many of them make important new distinctions that clarify and complicate the oversimplified "march of history" of decades past.

But I just want to say that there are a lot of us liberal/lefties who actually distinguish between teaching and public discourse. I tell my students that, aside from basic facts, there is a lot of room in history for interpretation, and it is the power of your argument and completeness of your evidentiary support that determines the quality of your history, not whether or not I agree with your conclusions.

Shannon - 7/20/2003

Well Tim, it's a pity I'm in Texas. I would happily attend your class. :o)

Tim Furnish - 7/20/2003

To quote once again a former prez, "Ah feel your pain." But...if all of us anywhere to the right of Ho Chi Minh abandon the field, the other side wins the day and gets to totally indoctrinate our youth. Join the fray!!!

Shannon - 7/20/2003

Tim, I would like to Thank you for restoring my hope in academia. For many years I considered going back to school to take a few courses on History. As one gets older one actually begins to find history an interesting topic, unlike in youth where it's just another course to to get through High School. I believe you know what I mean and take no offense at my words. But I have been relunctant to do so because of the very thing you pointed out in your article. I could be wrong and would delight in being so, but I am beginning to see our Colleges and Universities as a breeding ground for the indoctrination of liberalism. I resent our places of higher education being used as 're-education' camps for the left fringe. Am I wrong to feel this way? I would appreciate it of Professor Dresner would add his thoughts on this as well.

I certainly don't want to give my hard earned money to a College or University whose over all philosophy is to promote subversive and progressive politics by using characters in history to support their own agenda. My underlining fear is that the moment I noticed the first 'politically correct' term in a history book, I may walk out of the class room and demand my money back.


Tim Furnish - 7/20/2003

Well, I think we historians are sometimes qualified to draw (or demolish) historical analogies--not just the poly sci folks. But I agree with your larger point. Not to beat (or exhume) a horse, but my larger point is that said analogies at academic conferences are, in my experienc, almost exclusively delivered from the left side of the plate (as we baseball fans would say), never the right.

Herodotus - 7/20/2003

I meant apolitical, not neutral. I don't think that a presenter who is talking about Ghandi need speak about contemporary political affairs unless the historian is actually a political scientist drawing comparative analyses between something in the past and something in the present.

The worst offenses in this regard are when people giving papers on subjects that are not remotely connected to the present (medieval religious history, to pick out of the blue) feel that they have some platform and some obligation to pontificate on current affairs. The audience is there for the history, not the contemporary.

Tim Furnish - 7/19/2003

Prof. Markell,
Thanks for your comments and next year, if geography and travel budgets allow, I shall per your advice endeavor to chair and present a panel at WHA (or, God forbid, an even worse warren of leftist politicization masquerading as scholarship: the Middle East Studies Association).

Tim Furnish - 7/19/2003

Mr. (Prof.?) Catsam,
Well, to paraphrase a former chief executive, "that depends on what your definition of 'apolitical,' is." I of course agree with you that apoliticism is not tantamount to ethical relativism. I'm glad we destroyed Hitler's reich (and Saddam's, for that matter, and we should probably do the same to Kim Jong Il's). But that's not what was going on at the WHA; there, rather, I saw a Republican administration in the U.S. equated with a colonial British one in India 60 years ago. And do you honestly think that if we were living under a Gore administration the same sorts of comments would have been forthcoming?

Elia Markell - 7/19/2003

I am with Professor Furnish on this, but I think the arguments here about politicization miss the point. In my view, political passion and the quest for the truth are not inherently incompatible. In any case, I have never met or read a single historians who is without some political point of view -- as long as we all recognize that a tone of neutrality is one of the more powerful, if deceitful, political stances one can take. Political passion can lead to shoddy work, but it need not, in any case.

What I find objectionable about WHA from Professor Furnish's account (and my own many encounters with similar left-dominated professional organizations) is the insufferable institutionalized entrenching of a single point of view and a failure to ensure an enclusion of a full range of them. That's how a healthy academy would function. At the age of 60, I am finding fewer and fewer people with any memory of such.

As for the particular bias at WHA, it is the bais of transnational progressivism, as John Fonte terms it. A belief that the field's duty is to denigrate the nation-state, in particular THIS nation-state. No matter that the nation-state is still the only real game in town, for good or ill -- as comparing events inside Iraq now, where democracy is taking root, with events inside Congo, where UN troops cower in bunkers and chaos reigns. (I realize this last remark is provocative, and goes against the grain of the BBC-CNN-NYTs Axis of Drivel take on events in Iraq. So just read Amir Taheri's accounts of actual events on the ground there to see my point, please). In any case, the WHA ought to be INVITING folks like Prof. Furnish (or even me, for that matter) to conduct sessions and open a few windows in their stuffy loft.

Derek Catsam - 7/18/2003

This depends on what you mean by "apolitical." Surely you don't mean "neutral"? Would you also expect such "neutrality" on Nazi Germany or Apartheid South Africa or Stalin's purges? One of the jobs of an historian is sometimes to pass moral judgments. In so doing, there are inevitable political issues that will emerge. Once one assumes that Ghandi was right, that Mandela was right, that Hitler was wrong, that Stalin was wrong, they are, in some ways politicizing their history. In my mind, as long as they still do justice to the documents, to the truths that are out there, to the facts as we know them or as we learn them, some politicization is not only fine, it is good and necesary and in any case unavoidable. I certainly don't trust those who claim to do utterly apoliticized work or utterly neutral or objective work -- I think it is impossible, and usually those who claim to be depoliticized are the very ones with the agendas to watch out for.

Jonathan Dresner - 7/17/2003

Prof. Furnish,

Actually, I think there are three different kinds of politicization, two of which are defensible and one of which is not.

I think it is entirely reasonable to attempt to learn from history lessons that are applicable to the present (there are participants in HNN discussions who go so far as to proclaim that it is the only saving grace of our discipline), and that does entail, at times taking political positions.

The second politicization, a powerful component of the historical process, is the investigation of the past based on new categories and concepts which come out of contemporary politics. The rise of gender, class and race/ethnicity as analytic categories has greatly enriched (mostly) our understanding of the past.

The third politicization is far more common here and, probably, at the panel you describe, is the highly selective use of facts to justify one's predetermined positions: As John Kenneth Gailbraith said, "Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof." That's less defensible, and causes most of the arguments here.

And it is a bit naive to expect complete purity from human beings, but it is something towards which we can strive in our scholarship, in our teaching, and in our internet discussions.

I had a very similar experience, actually, at my most recent conference: a panel on Indian politics degenerated rapidly into an interminable apologia for the BJP (which the presenter insisted should be referred to by its translated name, "Indian People's Party" rather than by its convenient "Hindu nationalist" label) and its increasingly fundamentalist positions and fascistic methods, including communal violence. I certainly learned something....

Tim Furnish - 7/17/2003

Professor Dresner,
There is more than a BIT of disingenuousness in my piece.
Thanks for noticing.
But in all honesty I like to HOPE that these panels, even one on Gandhi, could be a bit more apolitical. Is that naieve of me?

Tim Furnish - 7/17/2003

They pseudonymous Cato calls me "parasitic" and then upbraids me for "intemperate name-calling?" Ah, consistency.... And to elevate this discoure back above the junior-high level, my dear Cato, perhaps you could focus on the SUBSTANCE of what I was getting at in that article--the unneeded politicization of WHA conference panels--rather than on the adiaphora of just how many classes I teach?
And while you're at it, attempt to find a sense of humor.

Herodotus - 7/17/2003

Why can't the study of Ghandi be apolitical? What's wrong with that? What's wrong with scholars that they think they have to inject contemporary political affairs into studies of the past? It spoils their work.

Cato - 7/17/2003

Rebuked? I give up. You guys are just like the doctors and lawyers when it comes to defending your own. What a racket! It is a good thing that nobody has to depend on your work for anything real. Sheesh.

Jonathan Dresner - 7/17/2003


While I don't agree with Prof. Furnish's conclusions in the article, I want to commend him (and rebuke you) because it is increasingly rare for scholars to even attend conferences without having a paper to present or other resume-bulking opportunities. Moreover, there is a great deal of work involved in actually listening to and absorbing the material presented at one of these conferences. Presentations are short, which is good, but that means that they are usually dense and fast-paced. It requires a fair bit of concentration, not to mention a strong background, to make sense of the material presented. It is work-related, as teachers of world history are expected to know, well, everything, and be current on "cutting edge" scholarship to boot. And it certainly is work.

On the other hand, there's a bit of disengenousness in Furnish's article: did you expect Ghandian scholarship to be politically neutral?

Cato - 7/17/2003

OK..workload...let's see ...maybe it was your complaint that you were soooo busy "grading for my three summer world history courses, working on a book proposal." I did not even bother to speculate about how many times you had to show up to class during the academic year....why did you imply that I did?

As for your intemperate name calling....it is a nice way to try to change the subject, but it rarely works. The fact remains that you did not bother to organize a panel; instead you decided to complain about those who did put out the effort and take the risks. Gee...I wonder if your definition of the word "coward" would apply in such a case. (Perhaps "parasite" would be the more appropriate term. I really don't know.)

Tim Furnish - 7/17/2003

Dear Cato,
I'm curious as to where in my article you can glean any info on my workload? (If you really want to know, I teach five classes per semester in the autumn and spring and three in the summer, in addition to publishing, attending conferences and--this past spring--presenting a paper in Israel.) As for your claim that I'm "whining"--well, that charge is, in my experience, the usual refuge of a coward. Like someone who posts comments on HNN without revealing their real name.

Cato - 7/17/2003

You might want to actually do something instead of whining about the panels and panelists (and complaining that you actually have to do some work to keep your job). It may well be that you are somehow prevented from putting together a panel focused on a subject agreeable to you, but I DOUBT IT.

Maybe it is time to quit your whining and get to work.

Ken Heineman - 7/17/2003

Tim, you have expressed in print what many of us have been saying to each other privately for years. I have concluded that the reasons to attend an academic conference are, in order of importance:

1. Will some entity other than yourself pay for the freight?

2. Does the conference city have great bars, food, and music?

3. Can you arrange to meet with friends at the conference to enjoy point 2 and who have point 1 covered?

4. You can put the conference on your activity report--especially important if you are not tenured and largely irrelevant if you are since few universities believe in real merit pay.

5. There might be a presenter worth listening to. An entire panel would be exceptional and if you get up to half of the presenters being worthwhile, well that still won't interfere with points 2, 3, and 4.

Keep the faith.


Jane Steele - 7/16/2003

I agree. These conferences can be very interesting but also a show place for mean-spirited attempts to make many attending feel bad. This is one reason that I no longer attend some of these.

Chuck Heisler - 7/15/2003

I wish you luck on your quest Mr. Furnish but what would these folks do for a smile, ok, a sneer if it weren't for a Republican Administration and Bush? You know they passed up the most potentially humorous Administration since Grant's, with all of it's gutter behavior, by taking Clinton and his "capabilities" and trials oh, so very seriously.
I do appreciate your comments and call for discussions of content.