Lecturer’s Research in South India

This summer, one of our lecturer’s, Dr Andy Davies, is undertaking a research fellowship in Southern India exploring the political and cultural history of the state of Tamil Nadu, and in particular the city of Puducherry (or as it’s more often known, Pondicherry). Here he explains what he’s up to and why.

“I’m in India on a fellowship organised by the British Association of South Asian Studies, in collaboration with the European Consortium for Asian Field Study and the British Academy, and will be spending two months in New Delhi, Chennai and Pondicherry, where I’ll be based in the Ecole Francais d’Extrême Orient.

The EFEO in Puducherry is typical of French Colonial Architecture in the 'Ville Blanc'

The EFEO in Puducherry is typical of French Colonial Architecture in the ‘Ville Blanc’

The research I’m doing is looking at anti-colonialism in south India in the early 20th Century, particularly looking at Pondicherry because, as a French colony, a group of nationalist activists who wanted India to become independent from British rule, sought political exile from the British there from 1908 onwards. Geographically, this is interesting, as the men who did this were in their ‘homeland’ (many of them, including the poet Subramania Bharati, were Tamil and fiercely proud of this identity), yet were also in ‘exile’ at the same time. Whilst these men and women suffered many hardships whilst in Pondicherry, they were part of international political networks that stretched from India as far as Paris and London. The British Government of India saw these as dangerous ‘terrorist’ networks, and much of the language used in official reports is similar to the language we see used today about organisations like Al-Qaeda.

Statue of Subramania Bharati in Puducherry

Statue of Subramania Bharati in Puducherry

These colonial histories are important to Geography in many ways – in Pondicherry, French colonialism shaped the culture – for instance it is possible to order red wine with a beef steak for dinner – something that is culturally very difficult elsewhere in India! The French influence is also clear in the urban fabric of the city. At the height of colonial rule, the city was divided on grounds of race between the ‘Ville Blanc’ (the French district) and the ‘Ville Noir’ (the Tamil district), and the differences between the two areas still exist today. On top of these, there are also political legacies as well – Subramania Bharati died in 1921, long before India gained its independence, but his poetry was important to people involved in the freedom struggle after he died. His work is still important today, schools and streets in Tamil Nadu are named after him, and more controversially, the poetry he wrote whilst in Pondicherry has been used by Tamils in Sri Lanka to argue for a Tamil homeland in that country (Frost, 2006).
My research will produce a number of academic papers, but also ties into a wider research network of people studying Indian culture and society within the University, and links to the ETIC project based in the University, as well as my own interests in the politics and history of South Asia.”


Frost, CM (2006) ‘Bhakti and nationalism in the poetry of Subramania Bharati’ Hindu Studies 10, p. 150-166

Latest QWeCI Project Newsletter now available

Post by Andrew McCaldon

I am the project secretary and Dr. Andy Morse is the coordinator of the QWeCI Project – Quantifying Weather and Climate Impacts on Health in Developing Countries.

In this project, researchers across 13 European and African research institutions work together to integrate data from climate modelling and disease forecasting systems to predict the likelihood of an epidemic up to six months in advance.  The research, funded by the European Commission Seventh Framework programme, focuses on climate and disease in Senegal, Ghana and Malawi and aims to give decision–makers the necessary time to deploy intervention methods to help prevent large scale spread of diseases such as Rift Valley Fever and malaria.

Read about the recent activity in the latest QweCI Project newsletter, which can be downloaded here, and more information can be found here.

Visiting the 2012 European Green Capital: Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain

Posted by Alex Nurse, Research Assistant, Low Carbon Liverpool project.

Last week, as part of the Low Carbon Liverpool research project, I visited Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain.  Vitoria is the capital of the Basque Country, located some 40km south of Bilbao and this year has the honour of hosting the European Green Capital award. Image  The Green Capital award is given to cities who have demonstrated an ability to lead on environmental issues whilst showing a commitment to continuing this development – the award has previously been held by Stockholm and Hamburg.

I attended an event entitled ‘Greening European Cities’: a collective of NGOs with an interest in the environmental issues who meet each year in the respective European Green Capital.  We heard from representatives of Vitoria-Gasteiz and had several opportunities to explore the city.

What shone through was that Vitoria-Gasteiz is a very well planned, compact city.  For 30 years planners have emphasised the need for good transport links, coupled with easy access to amenities.  By way of illustrating this, almost all of Vitoria-Gasteiz’s 240,000 residents live within 300m of key amenities (including shops, schools and hospitals). Image However the most striking point is the fact that a resident living on the very edge of Vitoria-Gasteiz has to travel only 3km to reach the city centre (a 40 minute walk, 10 minute cycle, or 5 minutes by one of Vitoria-Gasteiz’s trams or buses).  This would be the equivalent of the edge of Liverpool being located in Sefton Park.

However, after visiting the town centre, and speaking to residents it became evident that Vitoria-Gasteiz was a city that was struggling to reconcile the commitments that were made to the Green Capital year with the financial downturn which has enveloped Spain in recent times.  Although the reasons why the city won were evident, and logos in store fronts indicated a wealth of citizen support and pride, there was little by way of celebrating or engaging with the visiting public.  This could lead to Vitoria-Gasteiz being dubbed ‘The Austerity Green Capital’.

Nonetheless, I think Vitoria-Gasteiz has some key lessons to those who wish to study the city and to develop low carbon futures.  The central role of the citizen, effective multi-modal public transport and the ease of access to amenities could be held up as a model for how to develop future cities even if the financial downturn has prevented Vitoria-Gasteiz from celebrating its time in the spotlight as much as they might have liked.