SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Sikhs, Sex and the Colonial State: British Historical Imagination and the Family of Ranjit Singh, c. 1800-1850

Prof Margot Finn (UCL)

Date: 3 December 2013Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 3 December 2013Time: 6:30 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B104

Type of Event: Seminar

This paper examines social, political and historical relations between the British and Ranjit Singh (1780-1839)and his kin, both to add to and to critique the dominant tenets of the ‘new’ imperial history’s approach to the family as a foundation stone of liberal imperialism in the heyday of East India Company rule.  Accepting the new imperial history’s foundational claim that family and kinship systems operated within imperial structures of power as simultaneous and concerted metaphors, social experiences and political structures of rule, it explores British understandings of Ranjit Singh’s princely state to question whether liberal contractual paradigms of the family exerted the overwhelming sway in the Company era that they now enjoy in twenty-first-century history-writing.  An analysis of British beliefs about Ranjit Singh’s ‘family’ suggests the need for British historians to recognise that Indian interlocutors—including (for example) writers of Persian histories and the widows, wives, concubines, dancing girls and slaves of Sikh patriarchs—also contributed powerfully to family-centred narratives of empire in this period, and were understood by many British history-writers to do so.

Organiser: Dr Roy Fischel and Dr Shabnum Tejani