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Durba Ghosh


Mcgraw Hall, Room 321


My teaching and research interests focus on understanding the history of British colonialism on the Indian subcontinent.  I am the author of two books, and more than a dozen journal articles and book chapters; in one way or another, they all focus on the relationship between colonial agents, officials, and elites and those who were colonized.  Since I arrived at Cornell in 2005, I have taught courses on modern South Asia, the British empire, gender, and colonialism.   

My first book, Sex and the Family in Colonial India, is about conjugal relationships between colonial officials and residents and local women in India; the book focused on gender, culture, law, archives, and colonial governance in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century India. In connection with this research, I teach courses on South Asia, gender, sexuality and the state; in Fall 2016, I taught an introductory course with Tamara Loos called A Global History of Love, which I will be teaching in Spring 2021.  

My recent book, Gentlemanly Terrorists, focuses on an underground  radical political movement in early and mid-twentieth century India and the ways in which political violence against the British colonial state became an important, but historically underemphasized, form of protest. While Gandhi's nonviolent protest movements are often seen to be the hallmark of anticolonial protest, the book follows how the colonial state invested in security and emergency legislation to contain what they felt was an active terrorist threat.  In the process of writing this book, I have become fascinated with the ways that political violence has become a central part of popular historical narratives.  

My next project focuses on commemorations of freedom fighters, and the ways in which public monuments and statues to mark India's independence struggle have become a part of India's political landscape.  As a part of that project, I am part of the new collaboration group "Unsettled Monuments, Unstable Heritage," funded by the Radical Collaborations initiative in the humanities. 

I have also written articles and essays on historiography, gender and colonialism and the politics of emergency laws.  If you want to check out my top ten list of books to read on South Asia, click here.

At Cornell, I have been involved with the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program, the South Asia Program, the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, the Society for the Humanities, the Institute for Social Sciences, the CIVIC initiative that emerged out of the Radical Collaborations projects.  I currently serve on the Cornell University Press faculty board and am a member of the University Faculty Committee.  Further afield, I have served on program and prize committees for the American Historical Association, American Institute of Indian Studies, Association of Asian Studies, Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, and North American Conference on British Studies.  

Starting in July 2020, I will be the inaugural director of a new program based in the College of Arts and Sciences, the Humanities Scholars Program. 



  • Asian Studies
  • Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program
  • History

Graduate Fields

  • Asian Studies
  • Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
  • History


  • Modern South Asia, gender, colonialism


Fall 2021



Gentlemanly Terrorists: Political Violence and the Colonial State in India, 1919-1947 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).

Sex and the Family in Colonial India: the making of empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Co-editor with Dane Kennedy, Decentring Empire: Britain, India and the Transcolonial World (Delhi: Orient Longman, 2006).

Articles on political violence in colonial India

“The ‘terrorist’ and his jailor: the conundrum of ‘friendship’ and intimacy,” article for special issue of Itinerario, “The Private Lives of Empire: Race, Emotion and the Intimate in Colonial Rule,” edited by William Jackson, Itinerario 42.1 (2018): 102-19.

“Gandhi and the Terrorists,” article for special issue of South Asia 32.3 on “Writing Revolution; practice, history, politics in modern South Asia”  edited by Daniel Eelam, Kama Maclean, and Chris Moffat. (September 2016): 560-76. 

“An Archive of ‘Political Trouble in India’: history-writing, anticolonial violence, and colonial counterinsurgency, 1905-37,” in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Terrorism, edited by Carola Dietze and Claudia Verhoeven, published online, 2014.

“History Makes Women Well-behaved”: Revolutionary Women, Nationalist Heroes," Gender and History 25.2 (August 2013): 355-75. 

“Terrorism in Bengal: imperial strategies of political violence and its containment in the interwar years,” in Decentring Empire (Delhi: Orient Longman, 2006).

Articles on historiography

“Whither India?: 1919 and the aftermath of the first world war,” for forum on 1919 in Journal of Asian Studies 78.2 (May 2019): 389-97. 

“New Directions in Transnational History,” in New Directions in Social and Cultural History, edited by Sasha Handley, Rohan McWilliam, and Lucy Noakes (London: Bloomsbury, 2018).

“The archives of Geraldine Forbes and Barbara Ramusack: restoring women’s voices,” for a fetzschrift edited by Padma Anagol and Swapna Banerjee (under contract with Oxford University Press). 

 Roundtable on Historiographic “Turns” in Critical Perspective:  “Another Set of Imperial Turns?” American Historical Review 117.3 (June 2012): 772-93. 

 “Optimism and Political History: a perspective from India,” Perspectives on History 49.5 (May 2011): 25-27. 

“Introduction,” in Decentring Empire: Britain, India and the Transcolonial World, written with Dane Kennedy (Delhi: Orient Longman, 2006).

Articles on gender, sexuality, and colonialism

“Body Politics, Sexualities, and the ‘modern family’ in Global History,” in World Histories from Below: Dissent and Disruption, 1750-present, edited by Antoinette Burton and Tony Ballantyne (Bloomsbury, 2016).

“Legal and Liberal Subjects: women’s crimes in early colonial India,” Journal of Women’s History 22 (Summer 2010): 153-56. 

 “Who counts as ‘native?’”: gender, race, and subjectivity in colonial India,”  Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 6.3 (2005).

“National Narratives and the Politics of Miscegenation: Britain and India” in Archive Stories, edited by Antoinette Burton (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005).

“Decoding the Nameless: Gender, Subjectivity, and Historical Methodologies in Reading the Archives of Colonial India,” in A New Imperial History: Culture, Identity, Modernity, 1660-1840, edited by Kathleen Wilson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

“Household Crimes and Domestic Order: Keeping the Peace in Colonial Calcutta, c.1770- c.1840,” Modern Asian Studies 38, 3 (July 2004): 598-624.

 “Gender and Colonialism: expansion or marginalization?” The Historical Journal 47, 3 (September 2004): 737-55. 

“Making and Un-making Loyal Subjects: Pensioning Widows and Educating Orphans in Early Colonial India,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 31 (January 2003): 1-28.

Articles on public history

“Exhibiting Asia: Museums, Consumption, and Commerce,” in Contested Histories in Public Space: Memory, Race, and Nation, edited by Daniel J. Walkowitz and Lisa Knauer (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009).


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