Meet our Students: Peder Gedda

Ph.D. Student
Sikh History

Tell us a little about yourself, your background and how you became interested in Asian Studies?

I’m a renegade Swede who did my M.A. in Religious Studies with an emphasis on History of Religions at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. However, these days I do consider myself a historian first and foremost. History was my major addiction since an early age, it was to me the only subject where two hours of reading felt like five minutes. My interest in Asia in general, and South Asia in particular, was almost immediate and to be honest I don’t actually know why my response was so strong.

Why did you choose the Asian Studies program at UBC? Was there an aspect of the program or location that was particularly attractive to you compared to other programs in Canada or internationally?

I knew that if I was going to do PhD-level research, I needed to be guided by a genuine expert. I met my advisor from Asian Studies UBC, Dr Anne Murphy, in India when I lived there in 2010, and we got on very well so I thought that going to UBC made sense. In other words, I realised quickly that I would either do my PhD-project under her supervision, or not do it at all. Additionally, I wanted to take multiple languages such as Punjabi, Persian and Arabic as well as engage with other academic disciplines so Asian studies at UBC was a natural choice.

Could you explain to a non-expert what you are researching and why it is important?

My research is focused on translating, contextualising and analysing a series of Sikh etiquette manuals (rahitname) composed in the early 18th century in North India. I hope that my research can shed some light on this genre of literature as well as its period of composition, since both deserve more scholarly attention.

As a graduate student, what are your main activities?

My main activities are working on my dissertation, an article or two, as well as teach ASIA 376 this spring.

What has been the most memorable or impactful moment of your graduate experience?

Three things stand out. The first has been my language training, which has been extremely enjoyable and has opened up many doors. It’s really an indispensable tool and a must for the historian. Secondly, being able to engage with scholars from other fields and have their expertise inform my own work. Finally, the longer process of sharpening my research and dissertation project has been a wonderful experience. The process of reading, rethinking, re-evaluating and changing research is not always comfortable in the short term, but it is definitely worth it in the longer perspective. From a selfish point of view, I want to write the kind of history I want to read and this has given me the best possible circumstances for achieving that.

What are your goals (career or academic) once you’ve completed the program? And how is our program helping you achieve them?

Apart from my specific dissertation-topic, I nurture a strong interest in Mughal India, Safavid Iran and pre-modern Central Asia so I would like to do research and write on these topics. I hope I can generate a career from doing so. My view is that that if a set of topics have many people working on them, then one should consider them “taken” and focus on something else. In other words, I would like to create my own area of specialisation. It´s a luxurious but quite arduous and slightly daunting task I think. I have no idea whether it is doable or not, but it’s a work in progress and opportunities do open up.

Can you give any advice to new students in our program or for students considering applying to it?

I’m probably the least qualified to give advice to anyone about anything, but there are a few basics that I think can be observed. The first is to dare to be selfish. In other words, let interest and interest alone be the guiding principle. If you have it, go for it and don’t look back. If people tell you that you don’t know where it will lead, never forget that they have no clue either. Secondly, being able to surround oneself with good people is central. Iron sharpens Iron. Finally, I don’t tolerate boredom of any kind under any circumstances. It’s a haunting, choking poltergeist which must be fought by all means necessary. In other words, avoiding the tedium-generating aspects of life will help, especially when one is guided by interest.