Manan Ahmed

History Columbia University

Manan Ahmed, Associate Professor, is a historian of South Asia and the littoral western Indian Ocean world from 1000-1800 CE. His areas of specialization include intellectual history in South and Southeast Asia; critical philosophy of history, colonial and anti-colonial thought. He is interested in how modern and pre-modern historical narratives create understandings of places, communities, and intellectual genealogies for their readers.

His first book, A Book of Conquest: Chachnama and Muslim origins in South Asia (Harvard University Press, 2016), is an intellectual life of an early thirteenth-century Persian history Chachnama also known as Fathnama-i Sind (Book of the Conquest of Sindh) and how polities dealt with religious difference, created new ethics of rule, and articulated a political theory of power in the thirteenth century Indian Ocean World. It contested one of the central colonial argument for South Asia, that Muslims were invaders and outsiders—by critically examining the key textual configurations for it.

His second book, The Loss of Hindustan: The Invention of India (Harvard University Press, 2020), tells a history of the historians of the subcontinent from the tenth to the early twentieth century. The core of the book is the history Tarikh-i Firishta which was written by Muhammad Qasim Firishta (b. ca. 1570) in the Deccan in the early seventeenth century. Broadly, this book is doing a concept-history of “Hindustan,” a political and historiographic category that was subsumed by the colonial project of creating British India and the subsequent polities of “Republic of India” and “Islamic Republic of Pakistan.” It is also a broad examination of philosophy of history for the Muslim historians of the subcontinent. 

He is the co-founder of the Group for Experimental Methods in the Humanistic Research, which focuses on “mobilized humanities” and innovations in scholarly methodologies. One of the recent projects, Torn Apart/Separados focused on the humanitarian crisis on the southwestern border in Summer 2018.

He has broad interests, and projects, in the history of archives in the global south and the problems of access and control to digitized materials. He is working on a project of spatial visualization in medieval Arabic and Persian histories— including “Mapping Mughal Hindustan, 1500-1600” and “Delivering Post by Foot in Medieval North India”. He is one of the faculty conveners for the five year supranational project funded by Mellon, “Decolonization, the Disciplines and the University”  (2019-2024) and the “Manuscripts of the Muslim World”.