Introductory Seminar in South Asia

Spring 2015

HISA 1501 (1)

Introductory Seminar in South Asia

"Bangladesh: History and Identity"

Richard Barnett

Few countries have been as misunderstood, marginalized, dismissed, or stereotyped as has Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan.  This course explores its origins, geography, ideologies, demography, social and religious institutions, and prospects. We will examine its medieval background and early modern conversion to Islam (making its population a majority, with Indian Bengali Muslims, within the second-largest ethnic group of Muslims in the world, after Indonesia).  We will then address the religious reform movements of the 18th century, its experience as part of the British Raj, and the post-Partition developments while it was still East Pakistan that propelled it into a civil war of independence in 1971.   Thirty-two years of independence will then be examined, with political, economic, intellectual, cultural, and gender-related issues.

This is an introduction to a modern nation under enormous stress, facing important social, political, economic and ideological challenges.  We will examine history, society, and politics in Bangladesh; sharpen our historical awareness; and polish our writing and debating skills.  No previous acquaintance with South  Asia, or with history, is assumed or required.

Texts and assignments

              The following are all required, and available at U.Va. Bookstore or on line:

  • Willem van Schendel, A History of Bangladesh  (CUP, 2009)
  • Roland Buerk, Breaking Ships (London: Chamberlain, 2006)
  • A required book of photocopies is on sale at Brillig Books, 7 Elliewood Ave.,

Requirements   Evaluation will rest on class discussion (40%),  two two-page papers (30%), and one seven-page paper (30%).    Topics for these will be discussed in class.

Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904

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