The History of the Society for Advancing the History of South Asia (SAHSA), an affiliate organization of the American Historical Association (AHA)

The seeds for the Society for Advancing the History of South Asia (SAHSA), a federally recognized non-profit organization, were planted in the 2008 AHA annual meeting. During this meeting, several South Asian historians met to create a South Asia Caucus as a portion of the Conference on Asian History (CAH), led by Professor Stefan Tanaka. In 2008, Anand Yang was the invited speaker for the CAH meeting, and successfully proposed the idea of a South Asia affiliate. In 2008, the Founder-President was Sanjoy Joshi, at the behest of Mrinalini Sinha, who first initiated the idea as a part of the American Historical Association Executive Council. In 2008, the leadership consisted of Joshi as President and Manu Bhagavan as Secretary. In 2009, the organization voted Bhagavan into the presidency, who oversaw the drafting of a constitution (initially written by Brian Caton) as well as implemented by-laws, an executive committee leadership structure (consisting of President, Vice-President, and Secretary-Treasurer), at-large members, and a senior advisory board. In 2010, Anupama Rao assumed the Presidency, succeeded by Lisa Trivedi in 2011, and Michael Dodson in 2012. After the required three-year waiting period for affiliates to be officially recognized by the AHA, SAHSA first appeared on the AHA program in 2012.

In 2009, Sumit Guha,Yasmin Saikia and Chitralekha Zutshi led a fundraising drive to raise enough for an endowed book prize, named after John F. Richards, the distinguished historian of South Asia who spent most of his career at Duke University. In 2011, the John F. Richards Prize was inaugurated after three years of fundraising by the organization. The first prize was awarded to Farina Mir, author of The Social Space of Language: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial Punjab (University of California Press, 2010) and announced at the 2012 annual meeting in Chicago. The 2012 Richards Prize winner announced in New Orleans in 2013 was Douglas Haynes for Small Town Capitalism in Western India: Artisans, Merchants, and the Making of an Informal Economy, 1870 – 1960 (Cambridge University Press, 2011). In 2013, the Presidency was passed to Anne Hardgrove and at that New Orleans meeting, SAHSA convened the first annual Richards Prize discussion, focused on Mir’s The Social Space of Language. In 2014, the presidency was passed to Neilesh Bose, and then to John Pincince in 2015. At the 2016 meeting, a vote by the executive committee changed the length of each presidency from one year to three years. John Pincince continued from 2016 to 2018.

In late 2013, with Anne Hardgrove as President, Neilesh Bose as V.P./President-Elect, and Faisal Chaudhry as Secretary-Treasurer, the organization filed a certificate of formation with the state of Texas in November of that year. In the summer of 2014, the organization filed its documentation with the U.S. federal government to register as a formal non-profit, tax-exempt organization, thus allowing for the collection of membership dues. From 2008 when the initiative was proposed by Mrinalini Sinha to 2014, the organization has grown from a caucus and portion of the Conference on Asian History to an affiliate organization in its own right, funded and executed its own book prize for South Asian history, has overseen large increases in South Asia-themed panels, and has incorporated diverse and globally situated speakers into AHA programming. SAHSA looks forward to increasing visibility and providing networks and connectivity for South Asian historians in the future.

In 2010, Barbara Metcalf, currently Professor Emerita of the University of California-Davis and SAHSA advisory board member, assumed the presidency of the American Historical Association. Druing her tenure as president, Professor Metcalf mentioned that South Asian history in the United States was so small in earlier generations that all the South Asian historians in the country could gather around a single table for dinner. SAHSA, with a current membership of over 150, an endowed book prize, and an increasing number of panel sessions, has transformed South Asian history into a recognizable field within the U.S. historical profession. In New York in 2015, in conjunction with the Committee on Asian History, directed by Dr. Stefan Tanaka, both organizations decided to jointly host an annual luncheon, alternating between East and South Asian historians as the featured lunchtime speaker. In 2015, Professor Dilip Menon, Director of the Center for Indian Studies in Africa at Witswatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa, delivered the first such luncheon address, to be followed by Indrani Chatterjee in 2017 and Vinayak Chaturvedi in 2019, thus ever increasing the networks of visibility and range that SAHSA aspires to build in the professional community of historians.