Nearly a decade of research illuminates the long debate about India’s place in the world.

By Naser Al Wasmi, NYU Abu Dhabi Public Affairs

Political scientist Rahul Sagar has spent the past five years scouring hundreds of libraries around the world to build a digital resource that helps explain the story of modern India.

Ideas of India is a digital index of the English-language periodicals that Indians began publishing after the advent of modern education in 1832. These periodicals served as the forum where statesmen and intellectuals formulated and debated the ideas that have shaped India.

Few of these periodicals remain in India where funding constraints and natural disasters have resulted in the loss of rare and precious archives. Consequently, the bulk of these documents are scattered across more than 120 libraries around the world, making it expensive and time consuming to consult them.

“I would wait weeks to obtain a copy of a periodical only to learn that it did not contain what I thought it would. It became clear that these periodicals were going unnoticed because no one had the resources to access them. I had to do something to rescue them from oblivion,” said Sagar.

Aided by research grants from the US, Singapore, and NYU Abu Dhabi, Sagar employed research assistants around the world to collect and index the contents of these periodicals, making it significantly easier for scholars to pinpoint which periodical might be relevant to their research and to trace physical copies. 

The database, which contains over 300,000 items, has been warmly welcomed by scholars.

“I am confident that the database will become a standard resource for scholars and students of modern India.”