Meet the Fellows: 2017 Newcombe Fellow Elizabeth Thelen

The Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship is the nation’s largest and most prestigious award for Ph.D. candidates in the humanities and social sciences addressing questions of ethical and religious values. The 2017 class of Fellows includes Elizabeth Thelen, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of California—Berkeley.

As a child, I spent long summer afternoons rummaging through my grandfather’s attic, discovering old books and toys from the 1930s and 1940s. Reading these books and playing with the toys brought new worlds alive for me. There is a similar thrill in archival research. The records form a connection to another world through both their materiality and their content. When I sat in front of a decree from the 1570s sealed by the Mughal Emperor Akbar, I could picture this very document being created in the imperial court and I wondered about all the people who held this paper over the last 400 years. As I read through 18th-century petitions held in the Rajasthan State Archives in western India, the details contained within the records gave vivid glimpses into the lives of another time and place. I was drawn into the distress of a cloth dyer when water buffalo trampled the clothes he had set out on the bank to dry, the indignation of a woman who was hit with a shoe when she stood up for her right to be paid for herding cattle, and the boisterous joy of people celebrating religious festivals with street processions. These moments of connection not only bring the sort of joy and fascination I experienced as a child into my scholarship, they also help me reconstruct the complexities of early modern social worlds and understand the history of religious conflict in India.

Ms. Thelen’s dissertation title is Intersected Communities: Urban Histories of Rajasthan, c. 1500—1800. For more information on the 2017 Newcombe Fellows and to see a list of their dissertation titles, click here.


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