Cover of Archaeology of Babel by Siraj Ahmed
Archaeology of Babel
The Colonial Foundation of the Humanities
Siraj Ahmed


280 pages.
from $32.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9780804785297
Paperback ISBN: 9781503604025
Ebook ISBN: 9781503604049

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Winner of the 2017 Comparative Literary Studies - Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize, sponsored by the Modern Language Association (MLA).

For more than three decades, preeminent scholars in comparative literature and postcolonial studies have called for a return to philology as the indispensable basis of critical method in the humanities. Against such calls, this book argues that the privilege philology has always enjoyed within the modern humanities silently reinforces a colonial hierarchy. In fact, each of philology's foundational innovations originally served British rule in India.

Tracing an unacknowledged history that extends from British Orientalist Sir William Jones to Palestinian American intellectual Edward Said and beyond, Archaeology of Babel excavates the epistemic transformation that was engendered on a global scale by the colonial reconstruction of native languages, literatures, and law. In the process, it reveals the extent to which even postcolonial studies and European philosophy—not to mention discourses as disparate as Islamic fundamentalism, Hindu nationalism, and global environmentalism—are the progeny of colonial rule. Going further, it unearths the alternate concepts of language and literature that were lost along the way and issues its own call for humanists to reckon with the politics of the philological practices to which they now return.

About the author

Siraj Ahmed is Associate Professor in the Ph.D. Program in English at the Graduate Center, City University of New York and in the Department of English and the Program in Comparative Literature at Lehman College. He is the author of The Stillbirth of Capital: Enlightenment Writing and Colonial India (Stanford University Press, 2012).

"A work of theory and method, Archaeology of Babel is a very important intervention into a current high-profile discussion of comparative literature. Every chapter of this galvanizing and historically informed book develops new possibilities for the field."

—Lee Morrissey, Clemson University

"Siraj Ahmed launches a powerful critique of the method of comparative philology that has established a hegemony of the printed text, thereby impeding our ability to conceptualize collective life. A reasoned but passionate plea for reading anti-philologically, this impressive book is sure to provoke much discussion."

—Partha Chatterjee, Columbia University

"An important, scintillating study that deserves a wide interdisciplinary readership, Archaeology of Babel reappraises the historical roots of philology and encourages readers to re-imagine our present."

—Talal Asad, The Graduate Center, CUNY

"According to Siraj Ahmed's revelatory Archaeology of Babel: The Colonial Foundation of the Humanities, modern philology is at once a tool and a product of colonial domination....This is an ambitious, significant, and potentially incendiary book that reconceptualizes humanistic inquiry tout court."

—Jayne Lewis, Studies in English Literature