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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Jump Start, India, and the New History

Marina and I leave for Delhi Monday night in order to speak at the Jump Start conference: This is a gathering of all of the actors interested in literature for younger readers in India — authors, publishers, librarians, booksellers, storytellers, critics — thinking together about how the field can improve and grow. One idea that I am going to suggest is the Handmade World — having young people in India record the handmade world around them. We will be speaking with Cybermohalla: about working with them. At the same time, we are talking with USBBY about having young people here do the same thing, and then creating a website where we can gather and share all of these materials.

All of the above relates in a curious way to a review in the current New York Review of Books, The reviewer says that Emma Rothschild’s book, How They Made the Empire is a new kind of history: “This new-style history will deploy a range of information, generated by electronic resources, that will enable future historians to assemble in a matter of days vastly more facts and figures that their predecessors could ever have assembled in a lifetime of archival research. It will enable them, as Rothschild has done, to evoke an age by relating the microhistory of even the “uneminent,” as she likes to call them, to the larger historical scene—national, imperial, global—that shaped the setting of their lives. It will allow them, like Rothschild, to look at the same people and events from a range of standpoints, encouraging them in the process to introduce, for good or ill, the authorial first-person singular into narratives that it has been the convention to treat as rigorously impersonal.”

By wonderful coincidence, the book he is reviewing is about a family, the Johnstones, who were important in India, Scotland, Florida, etc. whom I happened to run into when I wrote The Real Revolution. And I experienced exactly what he is talking about — how the availability of digital resources makes it possible to stitch together histories long treated as separte, for example colonial America and colonial India. Well to me what we are doing at Jump Start, the Handmade World project, and the kind of history this reivew forecasts: the connection that economists measure, that families experience in their Skype connections with far-flung relations, now are also available to students doing research, and can be featured in how we write, teach, and share history. Think of immigration and geneology: what if every kid asked to do a family tree also traced family members who did not come to the US, followed those branches, and included current Google Earth info on where their descendents live now?

Assuming that we have wifi, I’ll blog from the conference — and lets imagine together how to build the new history — woven out of the links that connected people all over the world.


  1. Nancy Feresten says:

    Seems like a good way to create the new present, too.