SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

H234 Colonialism and Culture in Modern South Asia

Module Code:
This module is expected to run every other year
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 1

his module will explore the structures and processes by which colonialism was established in South Asia. It will examine how the land was transformed into a colonial territory and the impact this had on peasants and forest-dwellers. It will show how urbanization created new forms of labour and how new technologies integrated South Asia firmly into the wider global economy. We will look at how colonialism shaped people's everyday lives and how people themselves responded to this new colonial environment. The social institution of caste, religious practices and the use of language went through profound change. We will ask how religious and cultural reform movements became ways of recasting identities in a changing world. Gender figures in our analysis through the module.


  • This Module is capped at 30 places on a first-come first-served basis.
  • Students enrol via the on-line Module Sign-up system. Students are advised of the timing of this process via email by the Dept. administrator.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • have gained a broad understanding and knowledge of the social, intellectual and political history of colonialism in South Asia and responses to it.
  • understand historical controversies of this period and to engage in critical debate with their peers on a range of historiographical issues and historical events pertaining to the period.
  • write critical, well-structured, well-researched and persuasive essays.
  • challenge many of their assumptions about colonialism and think more critically about the present.

Scope and syllabus

  • Introduction
  • New Technologies
  • Peasants and Tribals
  • Urban Spaces
  • Social Histories of Caste
  • Caste as Colonial Knowledge
  • Law, Custom and Criminality
  • Christianity and Conversion
  • Hindu and Muslim Reform Movements
  • Language, Region and Identity 

Method of assessment

  • Exam 40% of overall module
  • Essay 2,500 words, 50% of overall module
  • Source analysis 500 words, 10% of overall module

Suggested reading

There are a series of general histories that you should make good use of.

  • Bose, S. and Jalal, A., Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy (London, 1998)
  • 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.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules