Commencement '22: newly minted graduates tell their stories

Mark Ostow

Mark Ostow

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Mohit Manohar  
Patna, Bihar; India
PhD, History of Art

How did you get interested in history?
I grew up in India, and I chose it because of my curiosity about my country’s history. Especially in high school, history was basically memorizing names and dates and regurgitating basic facts. No one told us to think of history as a critical discipline. It was only in college [at Princeton] that I discovered that, Oh, these were actually narratives that one can construct based on critical reading of sources and things like that.

Once that became clear, I was interested in unlearning some of the history I’d been taught, especially about this very vexed issue which comes up in Indian elections all the time, of how medieval Islamic polities behaved toward their non-Islamic subjects, especially the group we may today call Hindu. When I was growing up in the ’90s, the issue was whether medieval Muslim kings destroyed temples and built mosques [where temples had stood]. And if they did that, many right-wing politicians reasoned, shouldn’t we destroy medieval mosques and build temples on them? Such political debates flattened a complex history and I wanted to understand this history in its complexity.

What I found really fascinating was that at the crux of these debates was actually architecture. That led me to the art history track.

What have you enjoyed during your time at Yale?
When I taught Introduction to Western Art, I realized that the Yale campus allows you to teach the whole gamut on a walking tour. And we did it: Neoclassical, neo-Gothic, Egyptian style—you name it, and it’s there on the campus.