Professor Audrey Truschke

Audrey Truschke Wins NEH Grant to Write Sweeping History of South Asia

Rutgers University–Newark Professor Audrey Truschke, a well-known expert on South Asian cultural and intellectual history, has won one of 25 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Public Scholars grants for 2021.

Public Scholars grants support well-researched books in the humanities aimed at a broad public audience, and Truschke will use the $60K award to work on a sweeping single-volume survey of the history of South Asia from 2600 BCE to the early 2020s, highlighting the Indian subcontinent’s dynamic religious and cultural changes.

“It feels wonderful to have the support to do public humanities work and public education on history, especially in the context of a sore need for those subjects regarding South Asian history,” said Truschke.

As a leading scholar who’s been teaching this 5,000-year span in two History of South Asia courses at RU-N since 2016, Truschke is well-positioned to take on such an ambitious project. She’s one of the few living researchers who reads pre-modern Persian, Sanskrit and Hindi, and in recent years she also has been focusing on the region’s modern cultural politics, becoming a favorite target of India’s Hindu Nationalist Right for a book she published in 2017 on Aurangzeb, one of the most controversial kings in South Asian history.

The goal is to mix together cultural, social, political, material and religious histories and strive to present a variety of perspectives and showcase diverse voices in the Indian past.

Truschke says the new book, which will be published by Princeton University press, will be geared for undergraduate courses and also should appeal to a general audience. It will focus on parts of modern-day India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, though much of the project will examine time periods before those modern nation-states of South Asia existed.

“The goal is to mix together cultural, social, political, material and religious histories and strive to present a variety of perspectives and showcase diverse voices in the Indian past,” said Truschke.

She has already written drafts of several chapters of the book and intends to finish it during a spring 2022 sabbatical and over the following 2022–2023 academic year, when she’ll use the NEH grant.

Early in discussions about the project, Truschke’s editor at Princeton University Press pointed out that such sweeping histories still are far more often written by men than by women. That only increased her desire to tackle this book.

“I am grateful to Princeton University Press, both for commissioning the book and for awarding me a Global Equity Grant last year to support work on the project,” said Truschke. “I am also truly grateful to the community at Rutgers-Newark for their support of this project, my teaching and my research. Everyone from my administration to my students has already played a role in helping me formulate this project and preparing me to do justice to the many narratives of South Asian history.”

This year’s 25 Public Scholars grants, which totaled $1.4 million, were part of a much larger NEH award season that saw $28.4 million handed out for 239 humanities projects nationwide, supporting a number of initiatives, including the preservation of historic collections, humanities documentaries and exhibitions, scholarly books and research, and educational opportunities for teachers. These peer-reviewed grants were awarded in addition to $53.2 million in annual operating support provided to the national network of state and jurisdictional humanities councils.