The James Fisher Prize for First Books on the Himalayan Region
2022 Prize Winner
Intimate Geopolitics: Love, Territory, and the Future on India’s Northern Threshold
This is a beautiful book. It starts with a love story between Muslim and Buddhist youth in Leh, in which “dire geopolitical potentials associated with their union” terminate a relationship and a pregnancy. Such marriages have become impossible in a region where religious and ethnic minorities experience existential vulnerability. The book develops a compelling, ethnographically rich argument about how geopolitical conflict rests in bodies, manifests in daily life, and how bodies in turn can become a terrain for forging territory, through intimacy, love and reproduction. The ethnographic detail furnishes a feminist theory of intimate geopolitics. We see how bodies can refuse to be “instrumentalized for territorial purposes;” or how they can become a “link between territory of today and territories of the future” (when marginalized groups experience existential uncertainty, they seek to manage the bodies of their youth as the occupants of future territory, in a dynamic that Smith calls “generational vertigo”). The book duly considers how a frame of intimate geopolitics might help understand other areas of the world, and Smith writes with a humility and reflexivity that builds the trust of readers.
Swargajyoti Gohain was awarded an honorary mention for the same year.
Imagined Geographies in the Indo-Tibetan Borderlands: Culture, Politics Place
Part of the Asian Borderlands series published by University of Amsterdam Press, Imagined Geographies is an ethnography of culture and politics in Monyul, a Tibetan Buddhist cultural region in west Arunachal Pradesh, Northeast India—a significantly understudied and under-represented region in Himalayan studies. The book engages the spatial imaginaries of a transregional Himalayan community facing systemic lack of access to resources, and grappling with complications and contestations of identity, belonging, boundaries, continuation. The book offers an important account of an autonomy movement told in a way that explores how a politics of the local is shaped by regional and global connections, and ANHS is pleased to recognize it as an honorary mention.
2020-2021The ANHS Executive Council underwent a major turnover in 2020 and managed significant transitions for the Association. Given also the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2019 award was announced in 2020. For the 2021 award, ANHS extended the publication eligibility and accepted books that were published between 2018 and 2021.
2019 Prize Winners
Congratulations to the 2019 James Fisher Prize winner Karine Gagné for her book Caring for Glaciers: Land, Animals and Humanity in the Himalayas. This ethnography contributes to our understanding of human-environment relations in the Himalayan region, and employs novel theoretical interventions to do so. The book contributes to an understanding of ethics as informed by both practical activity in daily life, and beliefs about the nonhuman world. It engages the concept of an ethics of care by showing how the Ladakhi people sacrifice for the land, identify with a glacier, attend to domesticated animals, and cultivate knowledge about Ladakhi ecosystems. Based on year-round research in the Sham region of Ladakh, Gagne shows how caring for the land, glaciers, animals is a moral responsibility informed by religious ideas, but also by everyday life. In so doing she specifies a theory of the Anthropocene outside centres of global North knowledge production, where everyday human life engages nonhuman transitions at a key site manifesting contemporary geologic transformations. The book evokes a powerful moral and biophysical framework for the global call for care beyond humans, and points to critical questions about where the Indian state (and others) stands in relation to global discussions about the relationship between the human and the more-than-human.
In addition, the Prize Committee awards Honorable Mention to Stefan Fiol for his book Recasting Folk in the Himalayas: Indian Music, Media and Social Mobililty. Fiol illustrates through an ethnographic and historical study how folk music and the terminology of “folk” is conditioned by colonial, nationalist, and caste-based values and expectations. Spatially the book focuses on the Garhwal and Kumaon region in the Indian state of Uttarakhand In so doing it explores the everyday praxis of performers and performances in order to articulate the historical and contemporary “recasting” of folk in the Indian Himalayas. Specifically “folk” is recast via a politics of caste hierarchy—“lower-caste artisans from rural areas were celebrated as the source of the artistic heritage of the nation, but upper-caste artists were required to reform these raw materials and transform them into folklore.” Fiol thus reveals how the politics of folklorization itself is inherently interconnected with social status and mobility.
2018 Prize Winners
With a dozen highly competitive submissions, the awards committee is proud to announce the James Fisher Prize to Bérénice Guyot-Réchard of King’s College, London for her remarkable book, Shadow States: India, China and the Himalayas, 1910-1962 (Cambridge, 2017). Dr. Guyot-Réchard’s book, Shadow States, chronicles how India and China have entertained a difficult and tenuous relationship in their state-making endeavors in the Himalayan borderland. Dr. Guyot-Réchard documents the political posturing along the Arunanchal borders using not only multifarious historical documents, but also oral history interviews with local Tani and other communities. Located at the trijunction of Chinese Tibet, Bhutan, and India, Shadow States is a sobering reminder of the competitive dimension of borderland state-making and the role of local residents in shaping politics. That this book is so lucidly written, compassionate, and insightful is a testament the exceptional quality of our next generation of Himalayan scholars.
In addition, the Prize Committee awards Honorable Mention to Anne Mocko of Concordia College, Moorhead, MN, for her book, Demoting Vishnu: Ritual, Politics, and the Unraveling of Nepal’s Hindu Monarchy (Oxford, 2016). Dr. Mocko’s book, Demoting Vishnu, is a study of Nepal’s political shift from monarchy to republic through changes in royal public rituals. Based on extensive interviews and ethnographic fieldwork, Demoting Vishnu contends that usurping religious authority by interim administrations during Indra Jatra and other events served to legitimize new political authority in the nascent Republic of Nepal. While academics generally observe and record the more visible political demonstrations, constitutional legislative actions, or other political events, Dr. Mocko opens a whole new ritual landscape for readers to appreciate with keen insight and a lean yet evocative writing style.
2017 Prize Winners
The 2017 prize winners are Lauren Leve (Religious Studies, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) and Sara Shneiderman (Anthropology, University of British Columbia) with honorable mention going to Georgina Drew (Anthropology and Development Studies, University of Adelaide).
Dr. Leve’s book, The Buddhist Art of Living in Nepal: Ethical Practice and Religious Reform (Routledge, 2016), chronicles how Theravada Buddhism has grown to have a significant presence in Nepal, especially among Newar communities of Kathmandu. Besides being a pleasure to read, the book’s significance lies in its ethnographic treatment of families adopting religious tenets which help them adjust to the contemporary changes of late modernity and neoliberal globalization.
Dr. Shneiderman’s book, Rituals of Ethnicity: Thangmi Identities Between Nepal and India (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), is a study of mobility and ritual action. Through an ethnography of the Thangmi, a community who migrate between Himalayan border zones of Nepal, India, and the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, the book explores the maintenance of ethnicity in modern Thangmi communities. Set in a time of political conflict in Nepal and separatist movements in India, the book chronicles how democracy, communism, development, and indigeneity have all impacted Thangmi identity over time.
Dr. Drew’s book, River Dialogues: Hindu Faith and the Political Ecology of Dams on the Sacred Ganga (University of Arizona Press, 2017) uses ethnographic methods of journalistic realism to explore the ongoing debate over the Ganga river’s natural and constructed future. A remarkable book, River Dialogues examines how women in particular protest the building of hydroelectric dams on the sacred river and the private industries and government efforts to build them in Uttarakhand, an officially designated conservation zone.