Unstable Archives

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Unstable Archives: Gender and Empire in South Asia

The Unstable Archives: Gender and Empire in South Asia is an international project in global and imperial history, funded by the John Fell Fund. The project is led in collaboration between Dr Sneha Krishnan (University of Oxford) and Dr Megan Robb (University of Pennsylvania). This project aims to collect, catalogue and digitise materials in multiple languages in order to track women’s literal travels and figurative journeys through Britain’s imperial networks in South Asia. In the process, the project hopes to unearth the ways in which women’s histories may be central, rather than marginal, to socio-political transformations of empire.


How is ‘gender’ constituted in the archive? What relation does ‘gender’ bear to empire and to cultures of travel and mobility, as well as to projects of education, literacy and self-making? This collaboration represents an effort to engage these questions while asking how digitization shapes contemporary engagements with ‘gender’ in colonial contexts, particularly that of South Asia. We ask these questions as we digitise the correspondence of two women – Sharaf-un-Nisa Begum and Dorothy de la Hey – whose lives bookend the period of Britain’s imperial presence in India. While Sharaf-un-Nisa travelled from Kolkata to Devon as the wife of a member of the British aristocracy in the early years of East India Company rule, Dorothy de la Hey travelled from Oxfordshire to Madras to set up Southern India’s first women’s college in the last years of the British Empire in India.


The journeys and lives of these two women represent different albeit comparable experiences of imperial encounter. They provide an opportunity to form innovative methodologies mapping the lives of women through unconventional archival material, including ephemera and correspondence, and to recover vocabularies essential to recording their lives.

For more information visit: https://www.unstablearchives.com/