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Making Britain Events

The project hosted a number of seminars and workshops, a list of which are available below, in addition to a final conference, Bharat Britain: South Asians Making Britain, 1870-1950, and a touring UK exhibition in 2010. 

Image of colonial exhibition from Illustrated News

The Gwalior Gateway at the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition, South Kensington, London
Illustrated News, July 1886


Seminars and Workshops, 2008-2010

Workshop 1: South Asian contact zones in the metropolis

Wednesday 23 April 2008 - 9.30am to 4.30pm
Wolfson Room, Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, London

This one-day workshop considered South Asians and their varied interactions with the metropolis in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Keynote speakers were Antoinette Burton (Professor of Global and Transnational Studies, University of Illinois), addressing the methodology of transnationalism in relation to a migrant doctor, and Partha Mitter (Emeritus Professor of Art History, University of Sussex) addressing ideas of cosmopolitanism in relation to migrant artists. There was also a panel on ‘Indians on the Celtic Fringe’ with papers on South Asian interactions in Ireland and Scotland. The day was rounded off by a plenary panel of the core research team on the Making Britain project discussing the project and the day’s papers.

Follow this link for a programme of the day’s workshop [PDF, 65 KB].

Workshop 2: Investigating Asian Bloomsbury

Saturday 5 July 2008 - 9.30am to 5.00pm
St John’s College Research Centre, St Giles, Oxford

This one-day workshop sought to redefine Bloomsbury, central London, as a site of cross-cultural interaction and exchange in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Locating South Asian editors, writers, activists and soldiers at the core of London, it explored the varied ways in which these early migrants negotiated and reshaped this iconic space. The workshop opened with a keynote paper by Kristin Bluemel (Monmouth University, NJ) on Mulk Raj Anand and ‘intermodernism’. This was followed by a range of papers on literary figures and movements, publishing ventures and political activism, and a panel on the First World War as an ‘Indian war’.

Follow this link for a programme of the day’s workshop [PDF, 74 KB].

Collaborative Workshop: Mutual Making: Bengal and Britain

Wednesday March 18, 2009 - 10.00am to 5.00pm
CSSH Hall, 10th Floor, Alipore Campus, Calcutta University, Kolkata

Organized by the Department of English (DRS SAP III) Calcutta University in association with the Making Britain project.

Inter-University Postcolonial Seminar Series: Spring 2009

Making Britain: South Asian Resistances, 1870–1950
This series of seminars co-ordinated by Dr Sumita Mukherjee and Dr Rehana Ahmed addressed various forms of resistance by South Asians in Britain during this period. It formed part of the regular series organised by the Open University Postcolonial Research Group in association with the Institute of English Studies.
Venue: NG15 (North Block, Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E)
Time: 17.30 – 19.00

Tuesday 13 January

Alex Tickell
‘“Horrorism” in the Heart of Empire: Theorising Violence and History at India House, 1905–1909’
Alex Tickell is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Portsmouth. He has published widely on early Indian fiction in English, contemporary authors such as Arundhati Roy, and Indian literature and Hindu nationalism. He has also researched aspects of literature and terror, and is currently working on an AHRC-funded monograph project titled ‘The Massacre at Night: Violence, Terrorism and Insurgency in Indian Writing, 1830–1947’.

Tuesday 27 January

Anne Kershen
‘The Alien in the Aliens Act: Defining the Outsider’
Anne Kershen has been Director of the Centre for the Study of Migration at Queen Mary, University of London, since its foundation in 1995. Based in the Department of Politics, she is currently Director of the Masters in Migration and Masters in Migration and Law programmes. She has published widely, her most recent book being Strangers, Aliens and Asians: Huguenots, Jews and Bangladeshis in Spitalfields 1660–2000 (Routledge, 2005). She is currently researching the impact of post-accession migrants on communities with no history of previous immigrant settlement, her spatial focus being Shropshire.

Tuesday 10 February

Prabhjot Parmar
‘Strategies of Containment: Censorship and the Indian Soldiers in Britain During the First World War’
Prabhjot Parmar is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) postdoctoral fellow in the Department of English at Royal Holloway, University of London. Recovering the marginalized experiences of Indian soldiers who fought in the First World War, her postdoctoral project examines their letters as cultural artifacts within the context of war testimonies. She is the co-editor of When Your Voice Tastes Like Home: Immigrant Women Write and has published articles on the literary and cinematic representations of Partition. Currently she is teaching at the University of Western Ontario in Canada.

Tuesday 24 February

Michèle Barrett
‘“Sending them Missing”: Race, Religion and the Imperial War Graves Commission’
Michèle Barrett is Professor of Modern Literary and Cultural Theory at Queen Mary, University of London. She is a noted social and cultural theorist, with expertise in ideology, aesthetics, gender, and post-structuralist ideas. Her recent work has focused on the literature and art of the First World War period. She has been awarded a Leverhulme Fellowship to study shell shock, and a British Academy grant to research the colonial politics of commemoration. Casualty Figures: Five Survivors of the First World War (Verso, 2008) is her most recent book.


Jacqueline Jenkinson
‘The Role of South Asian Sailors in the 1919 Port Riots’
Jacqueline Jenkinson is Lecturer in History at Stirling University. Her two main research interests are the social history of medicine, on which she has written several books – the most recent being Scotland’s Health: 1919–1948 (Peter Lang, 2002) – and the history of minority ethnic populations in Britain. She has published several articles on the 1919 port riots; the most recent, on the riot in Glasgow, appeared in the journal Twentieth Century British History in January 2008. Her book on the riots, Black 1919: Riots, Racism and Resistance in Post-Colonial Britain, is published by Liverpool University Press in March 2009.

Workshop 3: Muslims Making Britain

A one-day workshop jointly run by the AHRC-funded research projects Making Britain and Framing Muslims

14 July 2009
SOAS, University of London

Speakers include:

  • Humayun Ansari
  • Katherine Butler Brown
  • Aamer Hussein
  • Siobhan Lambert-Hurley
  • Salman Sayyid
  • Sara Wajid
  • Amina Yaqin

This one-day workshop explored facets of the historical and contemporary South Asian Muslim experience in Britain, focusing on the cultural productions of writers, artists, activists and workers from 1870 to the present in order to explore how they have negotiated, interacted with and sometimes resisted majority British culture; their varied and complex identifications and affiliations; and the ways in which they might have re-imagined the nation. By focusing on how South Asian Muslims have helped to shape British cultural and political life across the period, this collaborative workshop foregrounded the depth as well as the breadth of their contribution to the making of Britain.

Complicating the common perception that a homogeneous British culture only began to diversify after the Second World War, the Making Britain project explored how an early South Asian diasporic population impacted on Britain’s literary, cultural and political life. Framing Muslims was concerned with the cultural, artistic, social and legal structures which ‘frame’ contemporary debates about Muslims in the West. The projects share a concern with the ways in which South Asian Muslims in Britain have been depicted in a range of discourses, and how individuals and communities have responded to and subverted these externally imposed definitions. Combining the contemporary focus of Framing Muslims with the historical depth of Making Britain enabled an exploration of how representational structures have evolved through time.

Workshop 4: ‘Re-presenting South Asians’

Wednesday, 21 October 2009, 9.45am to 5pm
The October Gallery, 24 Old Gloucester Street, London, WC1N 3AL

This one-day workshop explored the representation of South Asians in Britain during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Broadly speaking, ‘representation’ referred here to gendered issues of legal, visual, filmic and dramatic representation.

The workshop opened with a keynote by Michael Fisher (Danforth Professor of History at Oberlin College, USA). He addressed issues of legal representation and citizenship in his analysis of the changing status of Asians. His paper was titled ‘Roots of the Asian Community in Britain’. Shompa Lahiri (Queen Mary, University of London ) offered an examination of issues of gender and representation in her paper ‘Representing Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan: Gender, “Race” and Embodiment’. Sukeshi Kamra (Carleton University, Ottawa) spoke on ‘Figuring the Indian Political Body in Law:  A Reading of the history and language of Section 124A of the Indian Penal code’.

In relation to the visual arts, Sarah Turner (University of York) discussed artistic networks in Edwardian Britain in her paper ‘William Rothenstein, the India Society and Intercolonial Modernities, 1910–1914’. Rupert Arrowsmith (University College, London) spoke on 'The Indian origins of Modernist sculpture - The case of Jacob Epstein'. Rachel Dwyer (Professor of Indian Cultures and Cinema, SOAS, University of London) explored the representation of Asians in Empire films. Florian Stadtler (Open University) discussed ‘Representations of a Nation and Ideas for a National Theatre: Aubrey Menen and the Experimental Theatre Company’.

These are just some of the questions we considered throughout the day:

How are South Asians visually represented in Britain during this period? How do these images play out in relation to British images and stereotypes of Asians generally? What is the role of South Asian artists themselves and what artistic networks emerged? How do issues of legal representation and citizenship overlap or connect with representations of the nation in literary or dramatic terms?

A full programme of the day can be found here [PDF, 22 KB].

Exhibition and Workshop: Indian Traces in Oxford

Monday 1 March 2010. 2-6 p.m. 
Convocation House, Bodleian Library, Oxford
Reception in Divinity School: 6-7.30 p.m.

The March exhibition, Indian Traces in Oxford, linked to the AHRC-funded project Making Britain: South Asian Visions of Home and Abroad, 1870-1950, (Open University, Oxford University, and King’s College London) and mounted in collaboration with the Bodleian Library, showcased the remarkably wide range of textual and photographic traces or leavings of Indian students, activists, politicians, artists and others in the Bodleian special collections and College libraries, in the period 1870-1950. The exhibition opened with a half-day workshop, on 1 March 2010, in Convocation House, to be introduced by the acclaimed Indian novelist – and Oxford alumnus – Amitav Ghosh. 

Whereas ‘Making Britain’ examines how Indian travellers, students, politicians etc. contributed to British cultural life in the period, Indian Traces at Oxford focused in close detail on Indians’ impact on Oxford University’s life and culture.  The texts and images in the exhibition and accompanying workshop, presented to the audience with the help of the Bodleian’s manuscript visualiser, included: Mohammed Iqbal’s letters to Edward Thompson; a classics examination script of the Indian poet MM Dutt (S.P.G. papers); the diaries of Cornelia Sorabji, Oxford’s first woman BCL student; selected MK Gandhi letters and an MS poem of Tagore from the McGregor-Ross collection; and numerous College sports photographs featuring Indian students (1910s).  Each MS exhibit was introduced by a speaker with related expertise including Professor H Ansari (RHUL, on Iqbal), Professor E Boehmer (on Tagore), and Professor Richard Sorabji. 

Both the exhibition and the 1 March workshop considered the value and meaning of manuscript traces, how they reflect on the ways in which Indians and Britons interacted in the period, and how we are able to imagine the lives of these early Indian travellers to Oxford into these textual tracks and marks.

The organisers wish to acknowledge the support of the John Fell Fund, the English Faculty and Wolfson College, University of Oxford, and the Bodleain Library.

The exhibition was held in the Proscholium, 1-21 March.

A programme for the workshop [PDF, 57 KB] can be found here. 

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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