Sometimes it’s as much about the journey as the destination.
It was a journey few would—or could—attempt today. In 1956, new Harvard PhDs Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph, 26 and 28 years old, now UChicago emeritus professors of political science, set out for India. Both had studied political life in the new democracy in graduate school. From England, their first stop that summer, the standard way of getting to India was by Peninsular and Oriental steamer from London to Bombay.
But on shipboard, Lloyd says, “there’s nothing much different [from the West]. Then you get out into the world of colonial society.” Wanting to immerse themselves in the India of Indians, the couple elected a wholly different approach: they drove overland through Europe and the Middle East to the “old princely capital” of Jaipur and other Indian cities with little European presence. The journal they kept from Salzburg to Peshawar, excerpted in “A Passage to India,” captures their experience of a geopolitical landscape in rapid transition.
A transition in US higher education was brewing too. “All of a sudden,” says Lloyd, “all of these countries began to seek and get their independence, and India ... made the biggest splash. This had no representation in intellectual academic life.” In 1957, when they returned to Harvard as instructors, Sue cotaught the school’s first courses on modern Indian history and on Indian politics. Lloyd secured a commitment from the Rockefeller Foundation to introduce Tamil, Bengali, and Hindi into the curriculum, but Harvard president Nathan Pusey turned it down. “This was all new stuff,” Lloyd says.
In a few years, the National Defense Education Act would pour resources into math and science education, most famously, but also into foreign languages and area studies. Arriving at Chicago in 1964, the Rudolphs found a better institutional fit. “Chicago already ... had started non-Western civilization studies with Milton Singer [PhD’40] and Robert Redfield [U-High’15, PhB’20, JD’21, PhD’28],” Lloyd says. “Chicago was a perfect place for India studies to land because India studies was strongly interdisciplinary,” Sue adds. “Chicago was that to begin with.”
Three years later, their first book was published by the University of Chicago Press. Still in print, The Modernity of Tradition: Political Development in India showed how Indians were adapting the country’s traditions for the purposes of democracy—for instance, the ancient caste system as a means of political organization on the ground. Seven more books, all cowritten, followed.
The Rudolphs retired in 2002 but continue to write and to spend time each year in Jaipur. “We know the children of the people we knew as adults in the 1960s and try to stay abreast of the generational way of thinking,” Sue says. In 2011 the newspaper India Abroad awarded them its Friend of India Award, recognizing their work to make the country better understood outside its borders. In “A Passage to India,” we get to glimpse them at the beginning of their journey.