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Durba Ghosh


Durba Ghosh

Mcgraw Hall, Room 321



In the dozen years that I have been working at Cornell, I have taught courses on modern South Asia, the British empire, gender, and colonialism.  I have taught  a first-year-writing seminar on Gandhi and am now developing a first-year writing seminar on history since 9/11 to focus on how terrorism has shaped our lifeworlds.  My teaching and research interests focus on understanding the history of British colonialism on the Indian subcontinent.  For my first project, I wrote Sex and the Family in Colonial India 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; I was interested in the kind of everyday history that occurs in colonial families and households. 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 will be offered again in Fall 2017.  

My new 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 has become a part of India's political landscape.  

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.


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

Graduate Fields

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


  • Modern South Asia, gender, colonialism




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 (under review, Itinerario)

“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

“New Directions in Transnational History,” in New Directions in Social and Cultural History, edited by Lucy Noakes (under contract with Bloomsbury). 

“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).