media, information, the contemporary

Media Research in Government Archives

Satakshi Sinha

September 2018 to January 2020

I was part of Thematic Module 7 ‘Media and the Constitution of the Political’ (TM7) under M.S. Merian – R. Tagore International Centre of Advanced Studies ‘Metamorphoses of the Political’ (ICAS:MP) as a researcher between July 2018 – December 2019. My research focused on the networked infrastructures of railways and cinema in the 20th Century in colonial India. My work began by closely looking at official discussions and proceedings housed in the National Archives of India. I spent the first few months mapping the different government departments, railway companies and commercial enterprises that gradually came into conversation to build this infrastructure. I gathered a rich set of material on travelling cinema, involving the exhibition of a mix of instructional, topical, travel and entertainment cinema through railways and mobile vans; and on the bazaar train, in which retails of commodities took place. A crucial dimension of the archival exploration lay in tracing the agencies which facilitated these networks, in the government and through commercial enterprise in film and commodity circulation. I have prepared annotated lists of government proceedings, memoranda, committee reports, annual railway board publications, campaign proposals, brochures, advertisements, and posters to capture the relationship between railways and cinema.

My research also took me to the Delhi State Archives and Rail Bhawan. A significant source emerged in railway publications currently housed in Rail Bhawan. Though access was restricted, I noted the use of visual illustrations for various campaigns in magazines. These also carried photographs of the interior of railway demonstration cars, and how objects and processes were put on display, including war-related displays in the Second World War; and of crowds that gathered on the railway platform to view displays, films and the goods on sale in the bazaar train. These publications proved extremely insightful in bringing to life the various campaigns detailed in the archival material gathered from the National Archives of India.

I presented my research at the ‘Technologies of Information: Deep Histories and Archaeologies’ workshop organized by The Sarai Programme at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi (CSDS) and University of Toronto in July 2019. My research also assisted the continuing project of Ravi Vasudevan on film infrastructures, circulation and exhibition, and the writing of his article “Cinema-going on the Railway Tracks: the production, circulation and exhibition of information film in colonial India” in Vinzenz Hedigar, Florian Hoof and Yvonne Zimmerman ed. Films That Work Harder: The Global Circulation of Industrial Film, Amsterdam University Press, forthcoming in 2023.

My work with ICAS:MP significantly benefitted from my experience as a researcher with the Sarai Programme, CSDS (2013-2018). Along with cinema I looked at other dimensions of media infrastructure in British India, especially print advertising. Media use in the First and Second World was one focus of my collections. During this period, I completed my MPhil in Modern Indian History from the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and enrolled for the PhD. I have also been editorial assistant to Bioscope: South Asian Screen Studies, supporting the administrative back end of the journal.

My time with ICAS:MP concluded when I entered the final year of my PhD programme. I successfully defended my thesis titled Crime and the City: Delhi 1911-1956 and got my doctorate during the tumultuous and uncertain Covid years. I moved on to work as the Lead Researcher for the Milli Consortium Project with “Foundation for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship” (FISE) between January 2021 and August 2021. I researched on archives and web annotation standards interoperability, on the fundamental standards for archival arrangement, leading to a workflow/guide for various community archives to be able to contribute to the project. Further, I also developed a prototype narrative around the year 1975. Titled A Random Walk Through the City, it used material from two sample archival sources to illustrate the idea of storytelling through archival material and the ways in which it can be used by various community archives. During this time, I closely interfaced with the Milli technical team comprising of software developers, designers, and archivists. I presented my findings at the ‘Ways of Seeing: An Annotation Workshop’ at Milli Sessions; International Archives Week 2021.

I am working as a Senior Archivist with Nature Morte, India's premier contemporary art gallery, and its initiatives in curatorial experiment.

Research Collections

This archive was built between February 2021 and August 2022 and supported by the collaboration between The Sarai Program at CSDS and ICAS: MP on thematic module 7 entitled, ‘Media and the Constitution of the Political’. This project details how truth-telling is transformed after widespread media proliferation with a focus on public commissions of inquiry into the Northeast Delhi Riots in 2020. The project seeks to understand the nature of political, humanitarian, and legal claims made in the presentation of witness speech and evidence; how to assess the temporality of the report in negotiating these often-competing claims; and what the handling of media evidence discloses about the politics of caution, care, and self-care. In detailing how investigations assemble evidence and articulate the evidentiary value of media, special attention is given to practices associated with open-source investigations, online publication and archiving, and the management of risk associated with such human rights media work. Research collections include fact-finding reports and books, documentary films, collections of film and photo documentation, news reports, web archives, and social media threads.