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Historical thinking in South Asia: A Handbook of Sources From Colonial Times to the Present

Michael Gottlob

A sourcebook of historical culture in Modern South Asia, this text surveys ongoing debates on history writing and discusses how historians have dealt with the works of prominent figures from different regional, religious, and social backgrounds within South Asia, as well as divergent political orientations and ideologies.

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India since 1947: The Independent Years


Gopa Sabharwal

This definitive guide to independent India takes us through the events and personalities that have shaped India in the 70 years since 1947. Starting with Independence Day, it covers the decades in which the subcontinent saw the rise of democracy, its metamorphosis from an economy driven by self-sufficiency to one propelled by the economic reforms of the 1990s, and the concurrent liberalization, privatization and globalization that boosted India's growth rate. It also marks the transition from the era of single-party dominance to that of coalition politics and to identity-based politics. Arranged chronologically, India since 1947 covers a wide range of topics, from the Green Revolution, the Five-Year Plans, the infamous Emergency and the emergence of the Bharatiya Janata Party as a major political force to the beginning of television in India and the launch of its space and nuclear programs. A separate listing of the events leading up to Independence, interesting factoids on various aspects of modern India, and a detailed index further enhance the appeal of the book.

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A History of Modern South Asia: Politics, States, Diasporas

Ian Talbot

Noted historian Ian Talbot has written a new history of modern South Asia that considers the Indian Subcontinent in regional rather than in solely national terms. A leading expert on the Partition of 1947, Talbot focuses here on the combined history of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh since 1757 and specifically on the impact of external influences on the local peoples and cultures. This text explores the region's colonial and postcolonial past, and the cultural and economic Indian reaction to the years of British authority, thus viewing the transformation of modern South Asia through the lens of a wider world.

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The History of British India: A Chronology

John F. Riddick

A history of British India from 1599 to 1947. It is divided into three parts addressing political history, topical studies, and a collection of four hundred biographies of noteworthy English men and women who played a role in the creation of British India.

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Retelling Time: Alternative Temporalities from Premodern South Asia

Edited by Shonaleeka Kau2022

Reclaims alternative practices of time from premodern South Asia relating to a range of classical and vernacular genres including alaṃkāra, theravāda, yoga, rāmakathā, tasawwuf, āyāraṃga, purāṇa, trikā-tantra, navya-nyāya, pratyabhijñā, carita, kūṭīyāṭṭam and maṅgala kāvya. These represent multiple languages such as Sanskrit, Persian, Pali, Prakrit, Awadhi, Malayalam, Kannada, and Bengali, as well as diverse streams, from Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sufi Islam to logic, yoga, tantra, theatre, and poetics. Questions the modern Eurocentric belief in an empty, homogenous, abbreviated, secular and irreversible time; proposing instead that premodern South Asia invested time with cultural function and value, which ranged from the contingent to the transcendent, the quotidian to the cosmic, the fleeting to the eternal, and the social to the spiritual. This book will be of interest to scholars of South Asian history, philosophy of history, anthropology, literature, Sanskrit, post colonial studies, cultural studies, studies of temporality and of the Global South.

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The Partition of India

Ian Talbot


Review: "The British divided and quit India in 1947. The Partition of India and the creation of Pakistan uprooted entire communities and left unspeakable violence in its trail. This volume--by two highly regarded scholars in the field--tells the story of Partition through the events that led up to it and the terrors that accompanied it, to migration and resettlement. In a new shift in the understanding of this seminal moment, the book also explores the legacies of Partition which continue to resonate today in the fractured lives of individuals and communities, and more broadly in the relationship between India and Pakistan and the ongoing conflict over contested sites such as Jammu and Kashmir. In conclusion, the book reflects on the general implications of partition as a political solution to ethnic and religious conflict. The book, which is accompanied by photographs, maps and a chronology of major events, is intended for students as a portal into the history and politics of the Asian region."--Jacket.

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The New Cambridge History of India

Gordon Johnson, general editor; C.A. Bayly and John F. Richards, associate editors

Books may be accessed separately online within Cambridge Histories Online (linked above). Incomplete contents: I. The Mughals and their contemporaries: 1. The Portuguese in India. 2. Vijayanagara. 3. Mughal and Rajput painting. 4. Architecture of Mughal India. 5. The Mughal Empire. 6. Architecture and art of Southern India. 7. Architecture and art of the Deccan sultanates. 8. A social history of the Deccan, 1300-1761 -- II. Indian states and the transition to colonialism: 1. Indian society and the making of the British Empire. 2. Bengal. 3. The Sikhs of the Punjab. 4. The Marathas, 1600-1818. 5. European commercial enterprise in pre-colonial India -- III. The Indian empire and the beginnings of modern society: 1. Socio-religious reform movements in British India. 2. Rural Bengal since 1770. 3. The economy of modern India, 1860-1970. 4. Ideologies of the Raj. 5. Science, technology, and medicine in colonial India. 6. The Indian princes and their states -- IV. The evolution of contemporary South Asia: 1. The politics of India since independence. 2. Women in modern India. 3. Caste, society, and politics in India from the 18th century to the modern age. 4. An agrarian history of South Asia.

South Asian Languages Most Prominently Taught at Harvard


Of all the languages in South Asia, Hindi is the most widely spoken, and it is geographically native to the upper Ganges region of the subcontinent. Classified within the Indo-Aryan branch of modern Indo-European languages, it is one of the national languages of the Republic of India, and is most predominant in the northern regions. Hindi is written in a 46-character Devanagari script, which is also used for writing in other languages like Sanskrit. Devanagari is similar to the scripts used for Bengali, Gujarati, and other languages.

Also among the official languages of India, Urdu is the national language of Pakistan. It is written in a 35-character Nastaliq script, a style of Persian derived from the Arabic script.

Hindi and Urdu have many similarities. Although they are written in different scripts, their grammar and vocabulary overlap and have much in common with similar structures in English. Usage reflects complex social relations and corresponding forms of address. Hindi-Urdu boasts a long literary tradition since approximately 1000 A.D., tracing its literature from the 12th century to the present, including celebrated poetry since the 17th century and prose since the 19th century. Hindi today is dominant in cinema and television.

Students interested in an international career, whether in regard to cultural industries, politics, the non-profit sector (e.g. child welfare, public health), or economics, have much to gain by studying Hindi-Urdu. Proficiency in these languages is essential for communicating effectively in the rising sphere of South Asia within the globalized world. As well, the knowledge embedded in library collections recorded in these languages provides a rich trove worth poring over by humanists of any professional persuasion.


An Indo-Aryan language, Sanskrit is an important member of the Indo-European language family that originated in ancient India. It evolved over time, beginning in its Vedic form around the 2nd millennium B.C., when it was transmitted orally, mainly through religious chants. Epic Sanskrit came into being after this first phase, and is showcased in the Rāmāyana and the Mahābhārata, among other epic tales. After the middle of the first millennium, B.C., Classical Sanskrit became standard, including vernacular forms of the language, called Prakrits. These were spoken widely in India. There were many early scripts used for writing Sanskrit, but most surviving documents are written in Devanagari.

Many intellectual and cultural traditions in India are rooted in Sanskrit. Learning Sanskrit opens to the student a common template for most Indian languages, among them Hindi, Gujarati, and Punjabi. Like Latin for English, Sanskrit is an etymological treasure chest from which the meaning of many words derived. For scholars interested in historical texts, it is a gateway to Indian knowledge systems and historical records documenting literary theory, philosophy, religious beliefs and practices, and more. 

A sophisticated and systematic language of great intrinsic beauty, Sanskrit offers a broad vocabulary and complex grammar on topics both sacred and secular.


Tamil is the oldest documented language among the Dravidian family of languages. Both a Classical language inscribed in Brahmi around 200 B.C. and a modern language, it is spoken in north and east regions of Sri Lanka and Puducherry and Tamil Nadu in India, as well as Singapore. Tamil is recognized as a minority language in Malaysia, Mauritius and South Africa. Tamil literature has ancient origins and was represented in two of the earliest manuscripts from India. Since the late medieval period, the present Tamil script, a simplified version of Chola-Pallava, has been standard for the modern Tamil language. It is also written in Arwi by some Tamil-speaking Muslims. The Arwi script is derived from Arabic.

The Tamil language is important not only for understanding the contributions of Dravidian languages to the culture of South Asia, but to Southeast Asia, as well. Peoples who have spoken Tamil over the course of many centuries migrated throughout the globe. With them, they brought influences from Tamil culture, which can be surveyed through Tamil literary culture, history, and cinema.

Harvard Library stewards a growing collection of Tamil materials and maintains relationships with other repositories with strong Tamil collections.


The precise historical links for classifying the Tibetan language, both within and outside India, are somewhat uncertain. Most scholars construe genetic descent from Tibet-Burman and Sino-Tibetan. It is related to many smaller languages of the Himalayan region. There is interest among scholars in exploring potential Sanskrit influences on Tibetan. Its 30-character alpha-syllabic script, developed around 649 C.E., is based on the Devanagari model, from India. Mahavyutpatti, the first Sanskrit-Tibetan dictionary, dates from around the 9th century. Buddhist themes are the chief concerns of most Tibetan literature, much of which was translated from original sources in Sanskrit or Chinese.

Other South Asian Languages

In addition to Hindi-Urdu, Sanskrit, Tamil, and classical Tibetan, students at Harvard have the opportunity to learn other South Asian Languages through the Department of South Asian Studies. These include Bahasa Indonesia, Kashmiri, Nepali, Punjabi, Thai, and colloquial Tibetan.

Additional library collections at Harvard include materials written in these and other South Asian languages, including Bengali and Gujarati, among others.

Language Statuses

Languages are classified in two different ways. Firstly, they can be defined by whether or not they are spoken and used. Secondly, they can be defined by their place and function in a society.

Status by Speakers and Use

A living language is a language which is still spoken and used.

An extinct language is a language which is no longer spoken. It is a language which is not in use in any form. 

A dead language, also called a historical language or classical language, is a language which does not have any living native speakers but which is still used for various purposes. Latin and Ancient Greek are examples of dead languages.

A revived language is a language which fell out of use and was no longer spoken, but which has been intentionally reintroduced, usually because it is considered important to the cultural identity of a region or country. 

Status by Function

An official language is a language which is used in a country in government, education, administration, legislation, and business. This type of language has legal status.

national language is a language associated with a nation and its identity. It may or may not also be an official language used by the government. As well, it may or may not be used by the majority of the population of a nation. Its status is tied more to its cultural significance. 

De facto national languages are languages which are spoken by the majority of the population of a country. They may or may not be recognized as official national languages.

De jure national languages are languages which have been recognized by the government of a country as a national language. They may or may not actually be spoken by the majority of the populace but have been designated a national language, usually for cultural reasons. These national languages have legal status.

An indigenous language is a language which is spoken by groups historically associated with a specific region or country. It is also called a native language because it is "native" or original to a specific area and spoken by the group of people considered "native" or original to a region. Indigenous languages may also be considered regional or minority languages. An indigenous language does not necessarily have legal status.

A regional language is a language which is spoken in a part or region of a country. A number of minority languages are regional. These languages are not usually official languages, because their use is limited primarily to only one part of a country. A regional language does not necessarily have legal status.

A minority language is a language which is spoken by only a minority of the population of a country. These languages are only very rarely also official languages of a country; Irish being an exception in Ireland. A minority language has legal status.


What does legal status mean?

Languages with legal status have some level of privilege, power, and protection defined in legislation.


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Indic Across the Millennia: From the Rigveda to Modern Indo-Aryan: 14th World Sanskrit Conference, Kyoto, Japan, September 1st-5th, 2009: Proceedings of the Linguistic Section

Edited by Jared S. Klein and Kazuhiko Yoshida

The co-editors of this volume collected fifteen papers of the linguistic sections together with one paper of the Veda section in these proceedings. Various stages of Indic, from the Veda to Modern Indo-Aryan are covered, as well as such often overlooked languages of particular groups as Parsi Sanskrit and Buddhist Sanskrit. Thematically, too, the topics are diverse, encompassing phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, poetics, etymology, and computational linguistics.

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The Dravidian Languages

Edited by Sanford B. Steever.

The Dravidian language family is the world's fourth largest with nearly 250 million speakers across South Asia from Pakistan to Nepal, from Bangladesh to Sri Lanka. This authoritative reference source provides a unique description of the languages, covering their grammatical structure and historical development, plus sociolinguistic features. Each chapter combines modern linguistic perspective with traditional historical linguistics, and a uniform structure allows for easy typological comparison between the individual languages. New to this edition are chapters on Beṭṭa Kur̲umba, Kuṛux, Kūvi and Malayāḷam, enlarged sections in various existing chapters, as well updated bibliographies and demographic data throughout. The Dravidian Languages will be invaluable to students and researchers within linguistics, and will also be of interest to readers in the fields of comparative literature, areal linguistics and South Asian studies.

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The Indo-Aryan Languages

Edited by George Cardona and Dhanesh Jain

The Indo-Aryan languages are spoken by at least 700 million people throughout India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldive Islands. They have a claim to great antiquity, with the earliest Vedic Sanskrit texts dating to the end of the second millennium B.C. With texts in Old Indo-Aryan, Middle Indo-Aryan and Modern Indo-Aryan, this language family supplies a historical documentation of language change over a longer period than any other subgroup of Indo-European. This volume is divided into two main sections dealing with general matters and individual languages. Each chapter on the individual language covers the phonology and grammar (morphology and syntax) of the language and its writing system, and gives the historical background and information concerning the geography of the language and the number of its speakers.

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The Sino-Tibetan Languages

Edited by Graham Thurgood and Randy J. LaPolla

There are more native speakers of Sino-Tibetan languages than of any other language family in the world. Our records of these languages are among the oldest for any human language, and the amount of active research on them has multiplied in the last few decades. Now in its second edition and fully updated to include new research, The Sino-Tibetan Languages is a detailed overview of the field. This book is invaluable to language students, experts requiring concise, but thorough, information on related languages, and researchers working in historical, typological and comparative linguistics.

Searching by Language

To find materials in non-Roman scripts, search for both transliterated and original scripts: 

Search in the original script: Current best practice is for items to be cataloged by their original titles, in the original script. HOLLIS accepts non-roman scripts in the search box; however, some records in HOLLIS have romanization only and do not have parallel titles in the original script.

Search in transliteration: Transliteration is the conversion of the written script of one language into another script. When this transformation entails conversion from any non-Latin script(s) into the Roman (i.e., Latin) alphabet (e.g., from Devanagari "" to Roman "a") it is called romanization. Many older records have only transliterations, so it's important to try your search both in the original and in roman transliteration. HOLLIS ignores diacritical marks in South Asian languages. That said, systems differ, so try searching both with and without diacritical marks.

  • Harvard Library uses the American Library Association and Library of Congress Romanization tables for the bibliographic description of resources in non-Roman scripts, which you may consult here: ALA-LC Romanization Tables

Use search filters to specify the language of materials you are seeking:

Advanced Search Language drop-down menu

If you use the language filter in the Advanced Search form, you will be able to retrieve all items published in the chosen language. However, you will need to enter additional keywords.

HOLLIS Advanced Search showing Subject: Sanskrit and Subject: philology; with Language: Tamil









HOLLIS example showing Code: MARC language contains hin (Hindi)

Code: MARC language

Unlike the language drop-down menu also available in Advanced Search, this field allows you to see all items published in the chosen language, without having to enter additional keywords.

Add the desired code from the MARC language code list.

Example: search for all Hindi-language journals dated 1947.


Refine your search results by language:

After you have entered a search and you are viewing the list of results, you may refine those results by selecting a language facet on the right, under "Refine my Results."  

Example: search for Urdu language newspapers. Additionally, see a different example below:

snapshot illustrating use of the language filter to refine search results

Try an auxiliary approach. Use search filters to specify the place where the materials you are seeking were published:


HOLLIS snapshot illustrating use of MARC place of pub code to refine an Advanced SearchCode: MARC place of pub

You can see the list of MARC place of publication codes organized alphabetically or by geographic region. (If you have trouble finding the country you're looking for, there is a cross-referenced list available.). Unlike the “place of publication field,” which is free-text and uses the publisher’s language for place, the MARC place codes key individual cities and other place names to a country or a U.S. state.

Example: to find all items in the Library Catalog that were published in Bangladesh in the last 5 years, you can use the place code “bg” instead of having to search “place of publication” for Dhaka OR Chittagong OR Khulna....

Note: this is not a failsafe search, as not all Library Catalog records are coded for place of publication.


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Clay Sanskrit Library

Co-published by NYU Press and the JJC Foundation, this modern, readable collection of the great Sanskrit classics consists of 56 volumes covering a wide spectrum of Sanskrit literature. Offering fresh new translations by leading scholars from around the world, each volume features the original Sanskrit text in transliterated Roman letters facing its English translation, as well as extensive explanatory notes. Texts include ancient Vedic literature, classical Sanskrit poetry, epics Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata, novellas, and plays, like the Sakuntala.

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Murty Classical Library of India

Features facing-page English translations of original-language (and original script) Indian texts covering two millennia and evidences the pluralistic nature of Indian history. Works include a Buddhist anthology, biographies, creation myths, legal documents, poetry, and the world’s first anthology of women’s literature, among many other documents. Over the next 100 years, the collection is projected to grow to 500 volumes.

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Classical Sanskrit Literature

A. Berriedale Keith

A history of Classical Sanskrit literature, not including drama and the entire Vedic, epic, and Puranic literature. Otherwise, the book is complete for its time; it is among the most scholarly and valuable accounts written in English.


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South and Southeast Asian Literature: Classic and Postcolonial Writers in English, 1825 to present

A growing collection of literature written in English by writers from or culturally identifed with South and Southeast Asia. Most of the works included are from the late colonial periond though to the present. Once completed, the collection will also offer manuscript material and author interveiws.