History of MWF

The IBO Story

Indra Sengupta

Former Head of Office, Max Weber Stiftung India Branch Office

My research fellowship with the German Historical Institute London had ended and I had just begun an assignment teaching at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies Göttingen for a term in 2011 when Professor Andreas Gestrich, then Director of the GHIL, told me about a new, competitive funding scheme of the MWS, which he planned to apply for. With this, he hoped to start a new form of research collaboration. This was a five-year project involving scholars from Germany, India and the UK. The project would be based in India and an office would be set up in New Delhi to co-ordinate it. Would I be interested in co-ordinating the project, he asked. I would, said I. Thus began my 8-year journey into setting up and running first a project and subsequently an office, the MWS India Branch Office (IBO), which today proudly bears the name Max Weber Forum for South Asian Studies.

From January 2013 to December 2017, under the aegis of the GHIL, I co-ordinated the Transnational Research Group on Poverty Reduction and Policy for the Poor between State and Private Actors: Education Policy in India since the Nineteenth Century in Delhi and London. The so-called TRG consisted of a core group of 6 PhDs and 8 postdoctoral scholars working on the topic at universities in Germany (CeMIS Goettingen), India (JNU and CSDS Delhi) and the UK (the King’s College London and GHIL) and senior scholars (principal investigators), who jointly if informally supervised this research. The principal investigators also conducted their own research projects. Over and above research, the TRG produced digitised source repositories on the history of mass education in India as well as a very well received working paper series.

As a research group, the TRG was a great success, but perhaps its greatest success lay in the forging of strong bonds of intellectual collaboration, goodwill and friendship that became the basis of our subsequent projects in India. The original family of researchers remained connected to the IBO in some way or other and continued to be a part of its intellectual life long after the project ended. The TRG was followed by another collaborative project on Education and the Urban in India and, from 2015 onwards, the IBO became the platform that provided administrative support to several third-party projects of the MWS, such as ICAS:MP, Bilderfahrzeuge etc in India. It became a hub of research conversations between young scholars and its publications continued with a second working paper series on education and the urban. One of our greatest achievements, I believe, has been to bring younger and senior scholars together in a safe, friendly, and informal setting. The goodwill and support of our partners in India was key to this.

Looking back, it is hard to believe just how we made it from project to research office to a future as a research forum in the span of just under nine years. I still remember arriving at the premises of the IBO in Defence Colony in October 2012 and finding myself in the middle of what seemed to be a furniture workshop. The office was still being decorated and furnished and suddenly I found myself, as academic co-ordinator of a research project, acting as project manager of a building project! Then followed the nerve-racking process of registration as a Branch Office, the opening of our bank account and the everyday joys of dealing with bureaucracy. We would not have been able to make it in those early days without the tremendous support and friendship of our ‘host’, the American Institute of Indian Studies, especially its Director-General, Purnima Mehta.

With the successful external evaluation behind us in 2019 and the MWS’s subsequent decision to incorporate the IBO permanently into the Stiftung in 2020, the GHIL’s guardianship of the IBO came to an end in December 2020. With it ended my tenure as Head of Office. As the IBO enters the new phase of its life as an autonomous research forum under my successor Dr Sebastian Schwecke, we at the GHIL’s India Research Programme look forward to a close research collaboration with it in future.

Evaluation 2019 – Report

https://www.maxweberstiftung.de/fileadmin/user_upload/SRStellungnahme_MWS_IBO.pdf

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