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Building Histories

The Archival and Affective Lives of Five Monuments in Modern Delhi

Building Histories offers innovative accounts of five medieval monuments in Delhi—the Red Fort, Rasul Numa Dargah, Jama Masjid, Purana Qila, and the Qutb complex—tracing their modern lives from the nineteenth century into the twentieth.

Mrinalini Rajagopalan argues that the modern construction of the history of these monuments entailed the careful selection, manipulation, and regulation of the past by both the colonial and later postcolonial states. Although framed as objective “archival” truths, these histories were meant to erase or marginalize the powerful and persistent affective appropriations of the monuments by groups who often existed outside the center of power. By analyzing these archival and affective histories together, Rajagopalan works to redefine the historic monument—far from a symbol of a specific past, the monument is shown in Building Histories to be a culturally mutable object with multiple stories to tell.

272 pages | 10 color plates, 51 halftones, 1 table | 7 x 10 | © 2016

South Asia Across the Disciplines

Architecture: Middle Eastern, African, and Asian Architecture

Asian Studies: South Asia

History: Asian History


“An eloquent study [that] narrates extraordinary stories. . .making a strong case for pulling archival histories out from the influence of popular emotions. . .the book echoes the need for more nuanced history of architectural objects.”

Hindustan Times

Mrinalini Rajagopalan successfully works through her arguments by setting the consideration of source and consequence of the master narrative alongside what are, by all intents, micro-narratives. . .she allows her architectural texts to articulate the very human stories that resonate with every wall, gate, courtyard—in all their glory and dilapidation. . .This book’s achievements suggest that, beyond Delhi, there is an even bigger story to tell about India, and I can think of no better teller to tell it. . . an ambitious and intimate study.

Singapore Review of Books

“[An] eloquent book. . . .Building Histories unravels the histories of some of Delhi’s, and India’s, most important medieval monuments, and presents them in a completely new light. . .while Foucault saw documents as monuments, Rajagopalan suggests the reverse: that in India monuments were seen by colonial administrators and the postcolonial nation-state as stable docu­ments from which they could gather data about the past and place it within a field of rigid meanings — producing, in turn, unquestionable histories. Rajagopalan skillfully decon­structs these unquestionable histories, and their agendas of preservation, through the trope of ‘affect.’”

Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review

Building Histories is methodologically innovative, interdisciplinary in spirit, conceptually ambitious, and highly synthetic in its approach. The result is a portrait of the monument that does not stand still. Instead, Rajagopalan’s monument spaces shape-shift relentlessly over time as vessels of meaning making and contested, at times violent, histories. This book, which narrates extraordinary stories about Delhi and its monuments—many of them previously unknown—will significantly impact the field and raise the bar for future work in this vein.”

Saloni Mathur, University of California, Los Angeles

“This insightful and eloquent book traces the complex narratives of five buildings in Delhi, balancing the uniqueness of each example with an eye for larger patterns. Examining a number of violent confrontations—reaching from the Red Fort at the time of early British conquest to recent Hindu-Muslim conflicts over the Qutb Mosque—Rajagopalan shows how each of these monuments unleashed an affective power, an outpouring of popular emotions about subjects like religion, partition, nationalism, and social change. Building Histories signifies an exciting shift in architectural history and colonial studies.”

Gwendolyn Wright, Columbia University

"Between history and legend, between archive and affect, this is where the meaning of Delhi’s many historic structures – buildings classified as monuments – is generated. Mrinalini Rajagopalan’s provocative new thesis, presented as Building Histories: The Archival and Affective Lives of Five Monuments in Modern Delhi, operates from within the tense, murky interstices of various contestations over the semiotic quality of heritage, monument, and history. It is a bold new book for our troubled times, venturing innovatively into a territory of urban studies shackled as much with a surfeit of project reports as with an acute lack of sound scholarship. As an aspirational, aggressive India seeks to remake its image, the work of scholars such as Rajagopalan acts as a timely reminder of the deep flux of association and meaning which comes to inevitably frame the affective contours of our cities’ many pasts. . . . Building Histories is very well produced, with its many maps, sketches, and photographs having the strength to become points of reference in their own right"

New Books Asia

Table of Contents


List of Abbreviations

Note on Transliteration

Introduction: The Modern Lives of Medieval Monuments between Archive and Affect

1 1857: Red Fort
Mutiny, Memory, Monument 

2 1918: Rasul Numa Dargah
Interrupting the Archive: Indigenous Voices and Colonial Hegemony

3 1932: Jama Masjid
A Menacing Mosque Reveals the Limits of Colonial Power

4 1948: Purana Qila
The Many Origins of Partitioned Nations, Cities, and Monuments

5 2000: Qutb Complex
Secular Nations and Specters of Iconoclasm

Epilogue: Making New Monuments



Society of Architectural Historians: Alice Davis Hitchcock Book Award

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