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Making Britain Conference

Bharat Britain: South Asians Making Britain 1870-1950

13-14 September 2010, British Library Conference Centre, St Pancras, London

Keynote speakers: Humayun Ansari, Antoinette Burton, Susheila Nasta, Nayantara Sahgal and Rozina Visram.

Elephant on roof photo

Photograph by Neville Clarke. © Oxford University Estates Directorate.

This conference explored the manifold ways in which the presence of South Asians in Britain during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries impacted on Britain and influenced the shaping of the nation. It mapped out the various networks and affiliations South Asians and Britons formed across boundaries of ‘race’, ‘nation’ and ‘class’. These can be traced in different areas of cultural and political life, from the elitist literary and artistic circles of Bloomsbury where friendships were forged between poets and painters; to the anticolonial organisations which brought South Asian and British activists together in the lead up to Independence; to the battlefields of the two world wars where Indian sepoys and volunteers fought alongside Britain’s youth. Yet these interactions were also, at times, marked by hierarchies and dissent, with South Asians facing barriers in this chapter of their journey to negotiate the peripheries of Britain as well as its ‘centre’. Whether through riot, strike or petition, they struggled for their rights as imperial citizens, shifting ideas of ‘Britishness’ in the process.

Held in partnership with the British Library, the conference addressed the ways in which South Asians – whether writers, politicians, students or lascars – positioned themselves in Britain during this period, and, in turn, how they were depicted by the British public and in British culture. Further, it examined the significance of their activities and their influence on the cultural-political make-up of Britain, the ways in which their interventions challenged the national imaginary, and how debates about citizenship and Britishness during the period continue to resonate with contemporary preoccupations regarding Britain’s multi-ethnic identity.

The conference hosted the Making Britain exhibition which subsequently toured across the UK. It also launched a unique interactive database comprising several hundred entries on South Asians in Britain, and included a Bloomsbury Walking Tour.

The Call for Papers is still available online [PDF, 24 KB], and the Programme and  Abstracts are available also. For a review of the conference please visit:

The Open Univerisity
The University of Oxford
King's College London

Making Britain: South Asian Visions of Home and Abroad, 1870–1950 supported by

The Arts & Humanities Research Council

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