While studying abroad in Rajasthan, India, Anderson Tuggle ’14 assumed he would experience a new and unfamiliar culture. He was not aware that he would uncover a chapter of history that is largely forgotten. In his project funded by the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center, Tuggle is researching India’s political integration after achieving independence from Britain.
Tuggle and his Indian host father frequently exchanged stories about their family histories. Photographs documenting the family’s past lined the walls of the foreign home, and each one generated a new conversation. His father’s family maintained a small princely state before India became an independent nation, and this history sparked Tuggle’s interest in his research.
India transitioned from these princely states to a parliamentary system in a “surprisingly peaceful way, and without much agitation,” according to Tuggle. He thinks this was “such an extraordinary change that happened,” and is questioning how willingly different princes surrendered their command.
The government tried to prevent social unrest by offering these princes “perks,” to accept the democratic system. “So far, this is one of the most interesting lessons,” said Tuggle. While the perks longer exist, they included free utilities and annual pensions, called “privy purses,” which helped finance their residences, marriages and other ceremonies. Countries now in positions similar to India’s could apply these measures to ease their political transitions.
Tuggle was inspired to examine this topic when he discovered how little published work on the period existed. He said, “People focus on very violent revolutions,” and they tend to ignore peaceful political transitions. This is an example of the hindsight bias, where people assume they could better predict the outcome of an event prior to it happening. The government was supposed to coerce the princes into retiring their power, so we assume that it should have gone well. However, people did not know if the princes would fight against giving up their command, and it could have gone poorly if the incentives were not strong enough.
“Primary sources say this was not a foregone conclusion,” said Tuggle. “People don’t realize how precarious the situation was.”
With Associate Professor of History Lisa Trivedi, Tuggle is performing primary research. He will travel to the University of Chicago, which has an extensive Southern Asia literature collection, to search for more documents. He is “always looking for new vantage points to bring into the discussion” and hopes to find private letters, newspapers and journals that have not been used in previous research.
Tuggle is learning how to sift through these primary sources and develop his own interpretations. He is an “avid writer,” and “wants to write history in a manner that allows you to see the drama involved.” His final piece, which will focus on princes retiring their power, will bring to light a common human element from a relatively unknown time period in India.
Tuggle is a graduate of Hinsdale Central High School (Ill.).