On the Research Project

  Urban and architectural histories of 20th-century India often neglect the essential contribution of workers in constructing the nation's built environments. OMHI looks into how construction labor and other workers on India’s building sites mediated modernity in the key period of transition between the colonial past and the present (1917-1992). With a specific focus on Pune, the project involves active participation from local architects, building contractors, engineers and construction workers, along with their descendants, to co-create knowledge on aspects of expertise, technology, and the market as they played out on building sites. 

Did the Indianisation of the contracting, engineering, and architectural professions impact work hierarchies on the building site? How did building site workers experience increased mechanisation and the adoption of new materials such as concrete? Did the upscaling and commodification of housing projects in 1970s Pune coincide with changes on the building site?

In its endeavour to include perspectives ‘from below’ the project depoloys the power of building site photographs to gather memories of construction work. The first phase of data collection will result in an archive of digitised historical photographs of building sites in and around Pune. The second phase involves person-to-person and social-media interactions that draw on these photographs to elicit and record lived memories. 

Innovation is expected on two fronts:
- Historiographically, OMHI sheds light on how local traditions and (neo)colonial influences impacted working lives and built environments and how these factors intersected with  societal, economic and political developments during India’s period of high Modernity.

- Methodologically, OMHI advances the state of the art in construction historiography by testing novel participatory techniques for data collection and interpretation, both in digital and analogue form. 

OMHI is a global postdoctoral fellowship awarded to Sarah Melsens by the European Research Council (ERC) under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) of the Horizon Europe programme (Grant No 101108229). It is coordinated by the French National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS) and hosted by the Centre for South Asian and Himalayan Studies, Cesah, at the EHESS in France. It involves a two-year research stay at FLAME University in Pune. Project duration: 1 May 2023 to 30 April 2026.

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