At their commencement ceremony yesterday, Yale University awarded 12 honorary degrees to individuals who have achieved distinction in their fields. Indian writer and historian Ramachandra Guha was one of those honoured, according to a press statement by Penguin Books India.
Alongside acclaimed individuals including Nobel Laureates Daniel Kahneman and Ahmed Zewail, and Timothy Berners-Lee, Guha was made a Doctor of Humanities. President Peter Salovey’s citation when awarding the degree stated:
“As a sage voice of progressive India, you are a leading public intellectual. Your work is brilliant and varied in its scope. You are an incisive essayist of your country’s vibrant and clamorous politics and society, a renowned historian of modern India, and the definitive biographer of Gandhi. Whether writing about cricket or commenting on contemporary Indian life, you capture the spirit of your nation and its past, while opening new understandings of its present and the promise of its future. As a gifted teacher, you have shared your talents with us at Yale, and we are delighted to have you return to campus, this time as Doctor of Humanities.”
Guha is one of the most eminent voices of Indian social and cultural history. Throughout his career, he has transcended easy categorization, serving as an author, educator, environmentalist, sports fan, historian, biographer, and widely respected commentator on politics and society.
Guha was born in Dehradun, where his father was a director at the Forest Research Institute. His mother was a high school teacher. He earned degrees in economics from St. Stephen’s College in New Delhi and the Delhi School of Economics and a doctorate in sociology from the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta. His thesis on the history of the Chipko movement led to his seminal 1989 text, The Unquiet Woods: Ecological Change and Peasant Resistance in the Himalaya.
Guha has captured the history and culture of the subcontinent in more than a dozen books. He is particularly known for his detailed biographical sketches, which also serve as historical portraits of Indian society. Among his works are A Corner of a Foreign Field: The Indian History of a British Sport (2002), which documents one player’s cricket career in the context of the Indian caste system; the critically acclaimed India after Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy (2007), which was named a Book of the Year by The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Economist; How Much Should a Person Consume?: Environmentalism in India and the United States (2016); and, most recently, the first volume of a two-volume biography of Mohandas Gandhi, Gandhi before India (2013). He has also edited Makers of Modern India (2010) an anthology of the writings of the great thinker-activists who shaped modern Indian history.
Aside from his books, Mr. Guha is also one of India’s most recognized and admired columnists. Guha has taught at Yale University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Oslo, the Indian Institute of Science, and the London School of Economics, where he held the Philippe Roman Chair in History and International Affairs in 2011–12. He also served as a fellow at Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin and a senior fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi. He is a trustee of the non-profit New India Foundation, which supports scholarship on the history of modern India.
Guha’s honors include a Leopold-Hidy Award, presented by the Forest History Society and the American Society for Environmental History (2001); the R.K. Narayan Prize at the Chennai Book Fair (2003); the Malcolm Adiseshiah Award for excellence in the field of development studies (2007); and the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award in the nonfiction book category for India after Gandhi(2007). In 2008 Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines named him to their list of the world’s 100 top public intellectuals. Guha received the Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civilian award, in 2009.