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Department of History

Colonialism and Nationalism in South Asia

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Full Year

The course examines the historiographical questions and themes that have been central to the study of modern South Asian history over the last three decades. It is organized thematically as well as chronologically but does not seek to provide a historical survey as such. Students will be expected to round out their historical knowledge with reference to the range of text books that exist in the field.

We cover the period from the late eighteenth century to the present.
The course pays special attention to the mechanics of colonialism laid down through the nineteenth century, the cultural and political innovations of south Asians and the transitions to independence as well as the challenges faced by postcolonial states and their people.
Themes to be covered include: Term 1: land, caste, law, gender, religion, linguistic identities, urbanism.  Term 2: nationalism, communalism, independence and partition, regionalism, art, caste, religious nationalism, urban violence.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate:

  • an understanding of the nature of British colonialism in India and its legacy for the operation of political and social authority in contemporary South Asia
  •  an understanding of specific historiographical debates and conceptual problems central to the study of colonial rule and the postcolonial nation-state in South Asian history
  •  critical historical thinking and cultural analysis more generally developed through close reading and discussions of prescribed texts and essay writing in the course
  •  an improved ability to conduct systematic archival and library-based research using a combination of primary and secondary sources to answer a specific research question
  •  an improved ability to make clear, persuasive, analytical arguments in written and oral form

Method of assessment

1 Exam (40%),  1 3500 word essay (20%), 1 5000 word essay (30%), 1 seminar participation (10%)

Suggested reading

  • Bates, Crispin, Subalterns and Raj: South Asia since 1600 (Abingdon, 2007)
  • Bose, S. and Jalal, A., Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy (London, 1998 and 2003)
  • Ludden, David, India and South Asia, A Short History (Oxford, 2002)
  • Metcalf, Barbara D. and Metcalf, Thomas, A Concise History of India (Cambridge, 2002)
  • Robb, Peter, A History of India (Basingstoke, 2002)
  • Sarkar, Sumit, Modern India 1885-1947 (London, 1989)
  • Stein, Burton, A History of India (Oxford, 1998)

These also have bibliographic essays and thematic guides to readings on modern South Asian history that you should consult.


Modern Asian Studies (MAS); Journal of Asian Studies (JAS); Indian Economic and Social History Review (IESHR); South Asia (SA); Comparative Studies in Society and History (CSSH); Economic and Political Weekly (EPW)