Dr Shahmima Akhtar

Personal profile

I am broadly a historian of race, migration and empire. I teach on the history of world’s fairs in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Britain and the United States, with a particular focus on Ireland. I am interested in constructions of whiteness, the intersections between display, and the visual in identity making. Taking a cultural approach to the study of history, I map modes of knowledge production as it relates to marginalised communities within the British Empire. 

Follow me on twitter @shahmima_akhtar

Research interests

I am particularly interested in visual forms of identity production and the ways in which the realm of display and culture intersect or else sustain modes of being, whether politically, socially or culturally. In my research, I have taken case studies of Ireland’s display in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Britain and the United States, to interrogate what, and how visions of Irishness were engendered in the fairground. Questions I ask include: How does this fictive Ireland relate to Irish politics in the contemporary period? Who was curating these versions of Irishness? And how were these displays received? At the heart of these questions is a keen interest in the methods by and through which selfhood is imagined in both the popular and personal sphere. What specific historical notions of the Irish were held? And how were these engaged with? Taking into account the contested forms of knowledge production, I consider the multi-layered dimensions to being gendered, raced and classed. 

Research interests (continued)

I am currently working on Exhibiting Irishness: Empire, Race and Identity: 1851-1970 under contract with Manchester University Press. My next project continues my intellectual interest in knowledge formation as a site of resistance for minority groups and looks specifically at the South Asian diaspora. Provisionally titled Brumistan: Race and Resistance in Birmingham’s British Bangladeshi Communities in the 1970s and 80s, seeks to interrogate the activism, community networks and anti-racist struggle of this collective in the late-twentieth century. Using local archives related to the Birmingham Bangladeshi Women’s Association (BBWA) founded in 1988 and the Birmingham contingent of the Asian Youth Movements that spread in the mid-1970s, I will investigate how new migrant cultures were made and unmade in this era of increasingly hostile legislation on citizenship, the growth of the far-right and transnational discourse of ‘political blackness’ by focusing on the Bengali working class.

Teaching

I have designed a course on Black and South Asian Migration that spans over four centuries and uncovers how the migration of Black and South Asian people, groups, and communities has changed and shaped Britain.

Further, I teach on a range of undergraduate courses such as History in the Making, Historiography, Independent Essay Group, and Concepts, as well as on the MA in Public History. 

I am undertaking a Higher Education Academy Fellowship.

I also have a keen interest in race, ethnicity and equality in UK History. 

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