Representations of the Past

Historical Icons and Representations of the Past

Dr. Heike Liebau

This project examines the making, utilization and impact of the construction of role models in late colonial and post-colonial India. At the center of its inquiry are historical personalities who have been iconized as models. The project emphasizes the process of the making of such figures, which are based on a recourse to history, linking different temporalities to one another, thereby creating references between present and absent times (Landwehr). A central concern is to work out the linkages between role-model constructions and their ensuing historical images (Geschichtsbilder) on the one hand, and, unpacking expectations of an idealized future that are attached to them on the other. The project explores the socio-political conditions under which a historical personality is assigned or denied the epithet of a role model as well as the corresponding motivations behind such processes. How and with which means is the making of icons implemented? This objective not only requires an examination of the producers and recipients of the constructed historical icon but also necessitates investigations into the role of media and materiality. Competing narratives in textual sources are evaluated along with visual material or objects and monuments. The overarching research questions include: What is the relationship between historical documentation and evidence-based knowledge on the one hand and alienation, transfiguration, heroization on the other? What objectives do historical role models serve for both producers and recipients and how does their story change from an individual biography to a universal source of morality and action? Which processes of valuing, revaluing or devaluing the past become the foundational basis for dealing with role models?