SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

H234 Culture and Identity in Modern South Asia 1800-2000

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Full Year
Taught by Anwesha Roy - - 2019-20 This course looks at the question of identity in modern South Asia. The question of identity lies at the heart of much contemporary debate in and beyond our region of study. We will interrogate what we mean by ‘identity’ – if it is a thing to be possessed, an essence in the character of a community or people, or something more complex, fluid and changing, or whether it exists at all. Through the course, these questions will be posed with reference to specific historical examples.


  • 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

  1. To study in depth some of the main debates in modern South Asian history on the themes of social reform, caste, religion, language, nationalism and communalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
  2. To encourage students to think critically about historiographical debates and historical events and processes.
  3. To provide a supportive environment where students will learn to debate with each other about the issues raised.
  4. To encourage students to question their own assumptions about modern South Asian history.
  5. To help students to become better writers, to help them write well-researched, analytical and persuasive essays.
  1. To have gained a broad understanding and knowledge of the social, intellectual and political history of modern South Asia.
  2. To have an awareness of the historical controversies of this period.
  3. To be able to engage in critical debate with their peers on a range of historiographical issues and historical events pertaining to the period.
  4. To be able to write critical, well-structured, well-researched and persuasive essays.
  5. To have challenged many of their assumptions about the modern history of South Asia and to be able to think more critically about the present.

Scope and syllabus

The focus of the course is on the cultural and political history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century South Asia but we also study how aspects of the enormous social and economic change that took place during this period affected cultural and political processes.

Classes are organized around a number of themes: Changing environments; Urbanization; Caste; Religious Reform; Nationalism; Decolonization; and Postcolonial states. Gender is a theme that runs through the course. Topics to be covered within the thematic clusters include: technological change, the making of ‘peasant’ societies; colonial knowledge and colonial law, Hindu and Muslim social and religious change, Communism, Untouchability, Partition and its experience, ethno-linguistic and religious movements, democracy and military authoritarianism, urban societies and globalization. We will look at intellectual, cultural, social, economic and political change over the period of two hundred years with a view to understanding the historical processes that underpin some of the main debates around identity in South Asia and among South Asians.

Method of assessment

One unseen written examination (60%) plus three essays (40%)

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