Emotions and Temporalities. The Concept of "Modernity" in Urdu, 1900-1960

The emphasis which has been placed on researching the creation of colonial knowledge has brought about a rich array of studies. Less numerous are investigations on the embedding of this knowledge and its resultant transformation in vernacular discourses. At the center of the present project are articulations of the concept of modernity in Urdu from the turn of the century until the 1960s in India and Pakistan. It brings together the history of emotions and the history of temporalities, by examining the feelings evoked by and guiding the interpretation of the present and the imagination of the future.

The project aims at extending the methodology of the history of concepts in three ways: first, modernity is neither translated into Urdu, nor is the English word used until a very late moment. What is the semantic net which allows the contemporary actors to talk about the present and the future, their examination and their requirements, the tasks they impose on the actors and the emotions and passions they raise? How are concepts of progress and decline, but also of youth and age, of light and darkness, of hope and despair and pride and shame linked to conceiving modernity? Second, modernity is not just a contested cluster of concepts, but is debated in separate discourses and leads to different emotions. Unlike contestations, these elaborations only partly respond to each other. How can we map the field in a way which acknowledges fragmentations and contradictions – linked to social groups, but also to genres – without giving up on more general arguments and narratives? And finally, concepts are not exclusively, perhaps even not primarily formed through words. This is especially true for the 20th century. How can we integrate pictures and moving images into the actors’ interpretation of modernity?


  • Pernau, M. (in press). Die gefühlte Moderne: Emotionen und Begriffsgeschichte. Geschichte und Gesellschaft.
  • Pernau, M., & Rajamani, I. (2016). Emotional translations: Conceptual history beyond language. History and Theory, 55, 46-65. doi:10.1111/hith.10787