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Looking Back, Informing the Future: The 1947 Partition of British India

Crowdsourcing Memories

The Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute, in partnership with the Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard, is collecting and analyzing oral histories from survivors of the 1947 Partition with a focus on underrepresented voices, such as women, Muslims in India, Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan and Bangladesh, Parsis, Dalits, and Christians. Led by Professors Tarun Khanna, Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at Harvard Business School and Faculty Director of the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute, and Karim Lakhani, Charles E. Wilson Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and Founder and Co-Director of Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard, more than 2300 narratives of survivors have been collected in the period of 2017–2019.

Most of the narratives were collected with the help of trained volunteers in the region through the Ambassador Model, who interviewed the survivors in their native languages using a semi-structured questionnaire. In addition, partnerships with organizations such as the Citizens Archive of Pakistan and Independent University, Bangladesh helped in the story collection process.

Aspects of this project include gathering discrete historical data such as locations and descriptions of refugee camps; mapping geographical locations (before and after of migration locations, camp locations, violence locations); and analyzing comparative data based on stories from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the diaspora. This project also involves applying quantitative techniques to derive relations among variables and observe broad trends and patterns in attitudes and belief; identifying common words and phrases that are mentioned frequently in the memory database through topic modeling; and analyzing the sentiments to get a sense of the emotional valence of the interviews.

Professor Tarun Khanna and Shubhangi Bhadada discuss the project and some of the results below.