Historian Romila Thapar was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Pretoria on 8 May 2018. Thapar, one of India’s foremost public intellectuals, was presented with the award earlier this year by the Faculty of Humanities as she is unable to travel to South Africa. Her speech was read out at a graduation ceremony this morning. She receives a doctor of literature degree from the Faculty of Humanities.
Thapar, born in 1931 in Lucknow, is renowned for her seminal contributions to the discipline of history. She is currently Professor Emirita at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and has received several prestigious awards. Today’s honorary doctorate is her nineteenth award and the first from an African university.
From left to right: Prof Vasu Reddy, Dean: Faculty of Humanities, University of Pretoria, Prof Romila Thapar, HE Mr Ben Joubert, Acting SA High Commissioner to India, Prof Maxi Schoeman, Deputy Dean: Faculty of Humanities, University of Pretoria
In her work, Thapar reminds readers that history is not a singular narrative but an unending dialogue between the past and the present. Her writings provide a counter narrative to Orientalist, colonialist, and nationalist narratives of ancient India. She is a courageous proponent of the discipline of history, resisting the co-option, sanitisation and simplification of the past to serve narrow political interests.
“For Thapar history is not just a list of events and their corresponding dates, but the interactions of many voices, sources and narratives that must be examined critically, checked for their reliability, and be put together for a view of history that is full of nuance, where complexity is not set aside in favour of a view of history that is homogeneous and simplified. By means of her ideas and practice, Thapar has not only changed perspectives on Indian history, but has also changed our idea of what history can be and how it can work,” the citation reads in part.
“Romila Thapar has dedicated her career to championing the discipline of history. We are honoured to be able to formally recognise her achievements,” said Prof Vasu Reddy, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities.
This year, the University has also awarded honorary doctorates to artist William Kentridge (12 April), theologian Emmanuel Lartey (20 April) and cultural activist Mike van Graan (23 April).
- Author Dept. of University Relations