Office of Public Affairs
July 15, 2003
PROFESSOR TO STUDY IN INDIA ON FULBRIGHT SCHOLARSHIP
OSWEGO -- When SUNY Oswego Distinguished Teaching
Professor Geraldine Forbes spends October to April in India through a
Fulbright Scholarship, she will fulfill a project many decades in
Her time in the country will involve bringing together two
of her major research interests: the study of the evolution of women's
roles in India and the historical use of photographic
"I began working in women's history just when they
were beginning to call it 'women's history,'" noted Forbes, who chairs
Oswego's history department. After she was asked to edit the memoirs of
Shudha Mazumdar, an Indian voluntary social worker and writer, in the
1970s, "one thing led to another," Forbes recalled, and she found
herself increasingly studying changes in the roles of women in India.
She saw a progression in "the idea of what is a
modern woman" as the law and medical professions and universities in
India opened doors to women in the late 19th century, Forbes said.
Photographs from India's colonial period proved a
valuable tool for research, as photo studios flourished in some parts
of the country by the 1870s, she said. The way a woman was depicted in
pictures -- in traditional dress with bare feet or in modern clothes
surrounded by material possessions -- said much about the subject, she
Forbes noticed that, academically, photographs
increasingly "moved from the domain of art historians to become the
stuff and substance of social and cultural historians, anthropologists,
philosophers and critical theorists," she wrote in her project
proposal. She identified bridging "the gap between visual history and
women's history" as a key objective of her work in India.
"I realized that stories people tell with
photography don't make it into accounts of their lives," she said.
"When people see photographs, it triggers memories of things that
weren't part of the photographs."
In addition to the back stories these photos could
tell, their underappreciated role in chronicling history intrigued
Forbes. "I became very interested in photographs and realized that if
women's history, letters and documents were not in libraries, that was
even more true of photographs," she said.
The time in India will allow her to "complete the
research necessary for a monograph of photographic imagery and women's
history in colonial India, and develop a shareable archive with
photographs I have already collected," Forbes noted. She started the
photographic research about 20 years ago but has not been able to
finish because of other work. She plans to lecture on her findings at
universities and colleges in India.
The Fulbright Scholar program, sponsored by the U.S.
Department of State, provides opportunities for American academics to
study abroad as well as for scholars from other countries to teach in
the United States.
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