ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

“Conquest Over the Minds”: Understanding Colonial Subjectivity in Muhammad Latif’s History of Lahore


Afzal Fatima - University of British Columbia, History, Vancouver, Canada


08 – Imagining the city: Literary and religious practices of urbanity in early modern and modern South Asia


 In his book Making Lahore Modern, William Glover’s emphasis on of “fathoming” and “discerning” spaces highlights the connection between physical landscapes and the mental subjectivities needed to understand cityscapes. Glover argues that colonial Lahore was redesigned to depict order and rationality which would produce a ‘rational’ mode of urban living. However, my paper will argue that Lahore’s modernisation was part of a broader project of subject-making in which it did not suffice for the city to be built a certain way – the way in which it was seen was just as, if not more, important. As such, I argue that the colonial project of making an urban subject was an act of controlling how the city was seen.

I will analyse Muhammad Latif’s History of Lahore (1892) for the way it views colonial Lahore through the lens of rationality, teleological progress, and linear time. To exemplify how such ideas change the way the city is seen, I will compare Latif’s work to the poems on colonial Delhi written by Akbar Allahabadi (1846-1921), a critic of colonial modernity. While the focus will remain on Latif’s vision of Lahore, this comparison will highlight that without ascribing to the subjectivity that underlay the project of urban reconfiguration, the colonial city appears to be no more than a façade. The paper will thus argue that both Lahore and Latif’s book are products of colonial, rationalist modernity that only make sense when viewed through that framework.