Sumathi Ramaswamy
James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of History

I am a cultural historian of South Asia and the British Empire and my research over the last few years has been largely in the areas of visual studies, the history of cartography, and gender. My recent publications in this area include The Goddess and the Nation: Mapping Mother India (Duke University Press, 2010); and two edited volumes, Barefoot Across the Nation: Maqbool Fida Husain and the Idea of India (Routledge, 2010), and Empires of Vision (co-edited with Martin Jay, Duke University Press, 2014). My pictorial monograph titled Husain's Raj: Visions of Empire and Nation was published in 2016 by Marg, Mumbai. My work in popular visual history led me in 2006 to co-establish Tasveerghar: A Digital Network of South Asian Popular Visual Culture.   More recently, I have started a major project on Gandhi and visual culture funded by the Humboldt Foundation which honored me in 2016 with the Annaliese Maier Research Award. In the sphere of public visual humanities, I published two works in 2020: Gandhi in the Gallery: The Art of Disobedience , and a digital project titled B is for Bapu: Gandhi in the Art of the Child in Modern India .

I am also pursuing a new research agenda on the cultures of learning in colonial and postcolonial India. As part of this agenda, I have recently published a monograph titled Terrestrial Lessons: The Conquest of the World as Globe (University of Chicago Press, 2017), in which I explore the debates in colonial India about the shape and disposition of the earth in the universe and examine the course of science education conducted around the terrestrial globe as a pedagogic object as it enters Indian schools. 

A second project tentatively titled "A Strange Kindness? Giving & Learning in Tamil India," draws upon my experience as Program Officer for Education, Arts & Culture for the Ford Foundation in New Delhi (2002-2005). It charts the ethical, economic and political impulses that have governed private philanthropy directed towards the establishment of colleges and universities across Tamil India from the 19th century into the present.

Current Research Interests

Colonial and modern history of India; South Asian anthropology; Tamil studies; the British Empire; gender studies; history of cartography; visual studies; and history of philanthropy

Current Appointments & Affiliations

Contact Information

  • Box 90719, Duke University, Department of History, Durham, NC 27701
  • Dept of History, 325 Classroom Bldg, Durham, NC 27708

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