Professor Sarah Ansari

Research interests

I’m a historian first and foremost of South Asia's recent past, but turn my hand to other places and subjects as well!  My latest monograph Boundaries of Belonging: localities, citizenship and rights in India and Pakistan, which I've co-authored with William Gould, is due to be published by CUP in November 2019. Writing collaboratively for me has proved to be a highly rewarding experience (I've done this once before in the shape of a Past & Present article co-written with Taylor Sherman and William Gould). 

More generally, as the list of my publications underlines, my research interests tend to focus on the history of (1) the province of Sindh and its mega-port city of Karachi, and (2) the lives of women in South Asia.  

Between 2007-2010 I was the Co-Investigator on an AHRC-funded collaborative research project entitled 'From Subjects to Citizens:  Society and the Everyday State in India and Pakistan, 1947-1964'.  This involved me exploring in detail the kinds of interaction that took place between ordinary people and the everyday state in the years immediately following Independence and Partition.  I've also conducted collaborative research projects with universities in South Asia, including (together with colleague Markus Daechsel) a British Academy-funded series of writing workshops involving early-career historians there in 2018. 

I'm currently working to complete a concise history of Pakistan (again for CUP), while my next writing project, about which I am very excited, explores the lives of Muslim women in different societies over the last two hundred years!  I'm also the Hon Editor of the interdisciplinary Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-the-royal-asiatic-society). This international peer-reviewed journal was first published as long ago as 1834, and it is a great privilege to be able to work with the many scholars from around the world who publish in it today.

From a research impact perspective, one of the strings to my bow is my academic interest in the 1947 Partition of India, not so much the high politics that determined why it happened (even though these are important) but its impact on ordinary people’s lives, both in the immediate aftermath and over the longer term. This historical expertise has resulted in me becoming very involved in attempts to encourage the teaching of Partition - which in many ways marked the beginning of the end of Britain’s global empire - in UK schools.  For me, Partition *is* British history, particularly when we take into account how many people in the UK today have direct connections with the events of 1947 and their fall-out.  Add to this that Partition triggered the largest twentieth-century displacement of people (perhaps as many as 14 million - we will never know the exact numbers), and it is clear why it is still so relevant to today's world.  When the 70th anniversary of Partition took place in 2017, I was a member of the Partition History Project (https://www.history.org.uk/ha-news/news/3252/the-partition-history-project), which worked with the Runnymede Trust to pilot the teaching of Partition in UK schools (https://www.runnymedetrust.org/projects-and-publications/education/partition-project.html).  I also really enjoyed working with playwright and actress Sudhar Bhuchar, explaining to theatre audiences the historical context (Partition and its aftermath) in which her award-winning play Child of the Divide is set (https://polkatheatre.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Child-of-the-Divide-Education-Pack_UK-Tour-2017.pdf). In addition, I worked with a youth organisation in Slough called Aik Saath (‘Together as One’) when with the help of HLF funding in 2017 it put on an exhibition in the town that explored local (elderly) women’s Partition experiences (https://partitionwomensvoices.com/); all too often their memories have tended to be kept under wraps thanks to enduring issues of shame and honour. The current initiative in which I’m involved (the Partition Education Committee) wants the history of Partition taught more widely in British schools.  Our objective is part of the wider campaign to establish an annual 'South Asia History Month in the UK (https://www.asianimage.co.uk/news/17789684.south-asian-heritage-month-launched-house-commons/),something that we hope will be up and running, and widely supported by all communities, in time to coincide with Partition’s 75th anniversary in 2022.

 

Personal profile

Alongside my role at Royal Holloway (which currently includes being an academic member of its Council), I chair the Charles Wallace Pakistan Trust.

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