Speech by Prof. Dr. Om Prakash, Delhi School of Economics, India
Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen
The topic I have been asked to speak on this afternoon is "Forty years of international cooperation in the historical discipline, what has been done, and what needs to be done".
Let me begin by saying that I am very pleased to be associated with this discussion on how best to promote Mutual Heritage Studies in Asia based essentially on the use of archival and other source materials available in the Netherlands on Asian societies and polities.
As my grey hair would testify, I have been in the business of using Dutch archival source materials for writing Indian - and more generally Asian - history in the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries for over forty years.
I must admit that the investment of time and effort in learning medieval Dutch and then decoding the various styles of palaeography in the manuscript source materials of the VOC presented at the Nationaal Archief here in The Hague has been a source of providing extremely rich dividends in terms of the exceedingly rich information base available in this documentation for writing Asian history.
Let me therefore begin by fully endorsing the ambitious plan that Prof. Leonard Blussé has proposed in this meeting.
I have been associated with the formulation of the TANAP programme from the very beginning. To be quite frank, I was initially a bit sceptical regarding the eventual viability and successful conclusion of an ambitious and wide-ranging programme such as the TANAP. I do not believe that such an experiment has been tried anywhere else in Europe or for that matter anywhere in the West with such success.
Even after the financial part of the programme had come through, there were enormous problems to be sorted out at a variety of levels. These included a) the identification of the right participants, b) the working out of the precise manner in which to proceed with the academic part of the programme, which would include teaching medieval Dutch as well as the seventeenth and eighteenth century palaeography styles in which the manuscript documents were written and, c) the identification of a precise area of research that each participant would follow.
Looking back over the progress of the programme over the last more than three years, I must record my great satisfaction on the way it has progressed. The credit for this must go to Leonard Blussé and his colleagues at Leiden and other universities and institutions in the Netherlands who have participated in the programme actively and enthusiastically.
I understand that the first PhD Thesis under the programme will be ready for submission next year and by the year 2006-07, something like 15 to 20 PhD dissertations would have been submitted. This is a good performance by any standards.
But then one must move on. And that is precisely what today�s meeting is all about. Now that a beginning has been made with an extensive use of the VOC archival material by writing PhD's on Asian history, the field of interaction between source materials and expertise available in the Netherlands and Asian heritage must be expanded along the lines suggested in the Encompass programme.
The basic thrust of the programme is to significally widen the area of interaction between the Netherlands and a host of Asian societies. This is sought to be achieved by training scholars of a younger age and wider interest than has been the case under the TANAP programme. In addition to historians - who would continue to constitute the core of the programme - an attempt would be made to include students from other disciplines such as law, archival studies and anthropology.
Asian students with a good B.A. degree would be invited to join the programme. There will be a year of Dutch and general history etc at the end of which a BA in Mutual Heritage History would be awarded. The second year of the programme would be devoted to the history of the region the candidate comes from and would lead to an MA in "History of Global Interaction".
After this, some of the students would stay on to do an M. Phil and in the case of some even a Ph.D. degree. The academic content of the programme would thus continue to be solid.
But what is particularly interesting about the programme is that it is not confined to purely scholarly endeavours as reflected in the pursuit of an eventual Ph.D. degree.
Let me emphasize that this particular dimension of the TANAP programme has indeed acted in the past as a significant dampener on the availability of good students. Let us not forget that a commitment to a Ph.D. programme is a long-term commitment involving at least five years and then defining one's area and specialization of work for the rest of one's life. This is not an easy decision to make.
I have personally known of many high quality Indian students who backed out of seeking a place in the TANAP programme precisely because of the long term and indeed life-time commitment that it involved.
The Encompass programme provides a much more flexible programme which a large number of highly talented young students might be attracted to.
I have been the director of the Delhi School of Economics at the University of Delhi for many years. I am mentioning this because even if I say this myself, the Delhi School of Economics is internationally recognized as a top quality institute imparting training in Economics, Economic History, Sociology and Geography.
We are very lucky to get the very best students from all over India. I can say from my personal experience that the Encompass programme would be much better equipped to attract top quality students from an institute like mine than would the equivalent of a TANAP programme. Those of my students who like to follow an academic programme would much rather do a Ph.D. from an American university.
I would like to conclude by saying that I fully endorse the projected Encompass programme and hope that the Dutch government and other funding bodies in the Netherlands would provide support to it.