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Completed Research Projects

Beyond the Frame: Indian British Connections

This Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded follow-on project expands and builds on the success of the 3-year research project ‘Making Britain: South Asian Visions of Home and Abroad’ (2007-10). Profiling visual and archival sources in international collections, Beyond the Frame highlights the numerous ways in which South Asians positioned themselves within British society and culture and explores the significance of their impact on British life. Showcasing key historical links and cultural exchanges that took place between India and Britain, it also explores the tensions that arose from such encounters.

Beyond the Frame is led by Principal Investigator and Director, Professor Susheila Nasta of The Open University, with Penny Brook (Lead Curator of India Office Records, British Library), Dr Florian Stadtler (OU, 2008-2013), Dr Maya Parmar (OU, 2013-2015) and pioneering historian of Asians in Britain, Dr Rozina Visram.

Beyond the Frame project website

Leverhulme Project Performing Memory: Theactricalising Identity in Contemporary South Africa

The Project: background

Memory – individual and collective – has been central to the processes of redefining and representing identities in post-Apartheid South Africa. In the rush to produce ‘new’ histories, and define a ‘new’ South Africa, the focus upon memory has not only affected how archives are constructed, but also how they are ‘performed’. This project aims to analyse the implications of these processes, and their impact upon cultural practices, including the theatrical, broadly defined.

Leverhulme report on Research activities and current outcomes  

Project background

Performing Memory project website at Warwick University

Commodities of Empire

Founded in 2007, the Commodities of Empire project explores the networks through which particular commodities circulated both within and in the spaces between empires, without assuming that the designs of capitalist imperialism were always successful or that the world market was everywhere dominant. The project was initially set up by Dr Sandip Hazareesingh of the Ferguson Centre for African and Asian Studies (Open University), and Professor Jean Stubbs and Dr Jonathan Curry-Machado, then based at the Caribbean Studies Centre, London Metropolitan University. Between  2007-16 the project's output has included research workshops, working papers, the publication of two editions of collected papers, involvement in several commodity-history research initiatives and the launch of the Commodity Histories.

From April 2016 the project entered a new phase when founding co-director Dr Hazareesingh stood down and Professor William Clarence-Smith of the Centre for South East Asian Studies (CSEAS), SOAS took his place, cementing a partnership between CSEAS and ISA’s sequel Institute for Latin American Studies (ILAS).The project is now co-directed by Professor Jean Stubbs (ILAS) and Professor William Clarence-Smith (SOAS), and coordinated by Dr Jonathan Curry-Machado (ILAS).

Commodities of Empire project website

Making Britain: Visions of Home and Abroad (1870-1950)

‘Making Britain’ (funded by the AHRC from 2007-10) was a collaborative, inter-disciplinary research project which focused on examining South Asian contributions to Britain’s cultural, economic, literary, and political life between 1870-1950. By excavating the early presence of South Asians in Britain and the numerous modes by which they inflected ideas of Britishness in the period, ‘Making Britain’ heightened awareness of the breadth and depth of South Asian contributions to the national ‘making’ of Britain. Bridging the fields of literature, history, visual culture and sociology, the project developed new ways of reading archival material, investigating and interrogating contemporary concerns about identity, friendship, modernity, ‘Otherness’, multiculturalism, transnationalism and diaspora in the context of this little known period of migration to Britain from the subcontinent.

The first phase of the project was led by Professor Susheila Nasta of the Open University, supported by Co-Investigators Professor Elleke Boehmer, University of Oxford, and Dr Ruvani Ranasinha, King’s College, London. It was further supported by internationally distinguished scholars Professors Lyn Innes (Emeritus, Kent), Partha Mitter (Wolfson, Oxford), Deborah Swallow (Courtauld Institute, London) and historian Dr Rozina Visram (SALIDAA), and formal partnerships with the British Library and SALIDAA (South Asian Literature and Arts of the Diaspora Archive). Three Research Associates were attached to the project between 2007-10: Sumita Mukherjee (Oxford), Dr Rehana Ahmed (OU) and Dr Florian Stadtler (OU). Significant outputs during the first phase included publications (essay collections, sourcebook, monograph, special journal issue), a free interactive database on South Asians and their networks in Britain, four one-day workshops, a seminar series, an exhibition display at the Bodleian Library, Oxford (March 2010), a major international conference at the British Library (Sept. 2010) and a touring panel exhibition on show in public libraries across Britain 2010-11.

Professor Susheila Nasta, assisted by Dr Florian Stadtler (Research Associate), developed a second phase of the project, which include a revised and expanded touring exhibition for Indian audiences in 2011-12, curated in partnership with the British Library, the British Council and partners (V&A and British Museum) of the World Collections Programme. Plans for further follow on activities, such as a one day literary event at the Southbank Centre in Summer 2012 and the compilation of a photographic history of South Asian Britain, are also underway.

Making Britain project website

Managing Heritage, Building Peace: Museums, memorialisation and the uses of memory in Kenya

This three-year AHRC-funded collaborative project ended in September 2011. Undertaken in collaboration with Annie E. Coombes (Birkbeck College, University of London) and Karega-Munene (United States International University, Nairobi) the research examined the many different ways in which Kenyans are engaging with the past in the present time, and explored recent developments in the state and civil society-led heritage sectors. It has resulted in a co-authored book, Managing Heritage, Making Peace:  History, Identity and Memory in Contemporary Kenya, to be published by I.B. Tauris in May 2011. 

Managing Heritage, Building Peace project website

Contemporary Indian Literature in English for Indian Markets
Project completed 2007

Collaboration with the Independent Publishers Group, New Delhi, India, and a research group from the University of Delhi.

Coordinated by Suman Gupta (Ferguson Centre) and Tapan Basu (University of Delhi), with the assistance of postgraduate researchers from the University of Delhi, support and input from the Independent Publishers Group (IPG), and with Harish Trivedi (University of Delhi) as advisor.

The patterns of publishing and distribution of Indian literature in English and English translations of literature in Indian languages have undergone a change in the course of the last two decades. It now appears that a niche has been created in India for Indian writing in English, both in translation and in the original, published by Indian publishers for a predominantly Indian market - a niche that is unrelated to Anglophone Western markets. This project tracked changes by gathering empirical data and undertakes analysis of the data in terms of concepts of Postcolonial Literature and World Literature.

Contemporary Indian Literature project website

The Nollywood Film Industry and the African Diaspora in UK
Project completed 2007

Collaboration with the Creative Arts Department of University of Lagos , Nigeria.

Coordinated by Suman Gupta (English/Ferguson Centre), Françoise Parent-Ugochukwu (OU FELS/Ferguson Centre), Duro Oni (University of Lagos), Tope Omoniyi (Roehampton University).

This project examined the growing international marketing and reception of the Nigerian video/DVD film industry, with particular attention to consumption in the UK. This phenomenon was contextualised in terms of the manner in which the Nollywood industry capitalised on alternative paths of global cultural circulation, and in terms of its place in the Nigerian socio-cultural context.

Nollywood Film Industry and African Diaspora project website

Archiving the Contraband Modern in the Fes Medina
Project completed December 2006

A collaboration with Faculty of Letters, University of Fes, Morocco.

Coordinated by Kaushik Bhaumik (Ferguson Centre), Khalid Bekkaoui, Abdellatif Khayati, Driss Mansouri (University of Fes), with contributions by postgraduate students of the University of Fes.

The project sought to explore the interface between the impact of a global flow of goods through the holy space of the Medina in Fes and various strategies of the politics of location waged by its inhabitants. With particular focus on the significance of the ever-proliferating and increasingly powerful articulation of the interface via contraband exchanges - both material and conceptual. David Richards, former Director of the Centre, had a significant role in initiating this project.

Contraband Modern project website

Religion and Spirituality in the Constitution of Public and Private Lives: A Postcolonial Perspective

Collaboration with the Faculty of Humanities, University of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.
Started January 2006. Coordinated by Duncan Brown, formerly University of KwaZulu Natal, since December 2008 Dean of Arts, University of Western Cape.

This project is concerned with the place and role of religion and spirituality in modes of individual identification and belief, as well as in the structure and functioning of the public spheres of governance and policy-making, in postcolonial societies, taking as its initial focus South Africa. It engages seriously, in both its areas of investigation and its consideration of new methodologies, with the challenge of accounting for the range and power of religious/spiritual discourses which run through individual and communal identification in such societies, while subjecting such discourses to analysis and argument. David Richards, former Director of the Centre, had a significant role in initiating this project.

Religion and Spirituality project outline

Details of publication Religion and spirituality in South Africa New Perspectives, edited by Duncan Brown pdf (3,220 kb)

Individual projects

Susheila Nasta
Postcolonial Life-Writing

Whilst there has been much research over the years in the general area of autobiography and life-writing, the focus in the main has been on texts emanating from the West. Following a successful series of research seminars held at the Institute of English Studies in 2005, I edited a special issue of Wasafiri on the theme of postcolonial life-writing covering perspectives from Africa, the Caribbean, South Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Subsequently my individual research has focussed on the work of a Caribbean writer currently living in the US, Jamaica Kincaid. Since her migration to the US in 1966, her enigmatic portraits of ‘self’, ‘family’ and ‘history’ have often blurred the traditional lines between autobiography, fiction, non-fiction and memoir. Drawing on recent theories of postcolonial ‘life-writing’, my forthcoming monograph Jamaica Kincaid: Writing a Life will unravel the complex aesthetic and subversive political strategies Kincaid has invented in the past forty years to continue to write a life. As she once said: ‘I did not know then that I had embarked on something called self-invention, the making of a type of person that did not exist in the place where I was born’ (Kincaid, 1997) 

Francoise Ugochukwu 
Nigerian video film production: reception and impact among diasporic communities in the UK

To be coordinated by Francoise Ugochukwu. The objectives are:

  1. to evaluate the current use of film and video documents from contemporary Nigeria as a unique context for cultural exchange and language reinforcement in the use of English and heritage languages among diasporic communities in the UK. This will involve collecting comprehensive data on the reception of those films by immigrant communities and the British public in different parts of the UK, and assess its impact on viewers' daily lives.
  2.  to bring the NVFP to the attention of the British academic sector and promote research on this developing production and its reception. This will be done through publications, and the development and regular updating of the revamped project website, housed by the Open University Ferguson Centre and launched during the 2006-2007 NVFP pilot project. The revamped project website will enable the team to reach out to a substantive number of researchers and support ours and related collaborative projects across continents. It will enable researchers, students - including the Open University postgraduate student body - and the general public to familiarise themselves with the NVFP, reference and browse through the growing number of documents available and pursue their research. This is expected to boost the Open University Ferguson Centre's current research interests in diasporic studies, cross cultural identities, citizenships and heritage studies and its links to the Oecumene project and the Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance (CCIG).
  3. to build a comprehensive database and archive here in the UK in order to promote research on this developing production which will offer a welcome pendant to existing research on Bollywood and facilitate comparative studies. The UK archive on Nigerian films, started on a small scale in 2006 and housed in the Ferguson Centre, Open University, Milton Keynes, is the only one of its kind in the country at the moment. Situated close to London, it will enable researchers, students - including the Open University postgraduate student body - and the general public to familiarise themselves with the NVFP, reference and browse through the growing number of documents available and pursue their research. The close links between the Ferguson Centre, the University of London and SOAS will attract postgraduate students to our archive and events, boosting the research on the NVFP. The project website, that already offers regular updates and an asynchronous conference facility, will enable the Centre to reach out to a substantive number of researchers and support ours and related collaborative projects across continents.
  4. To encourage a fruitful intercultural dialogue among the general public: the Ferguson Centre's partnership with the British Film Institute, the Nigerian High Commission in London and the NIDOE (Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation, Europe) will facilitate the dissemination of our findings through a blog, programmed public lectures and workshops. This type of events, already tested during the 2006-2007 pilot period, has the potential of bringing together a wide range of interested persons from both the academic and media sectors and the general public, developing and sustaining continuous interest in the researched field.
  5. To contribute to the wider dissemination of information on the NMPI both in the UK and the rest of Europe, and generate new collaborative projects at the national and international levels, consolidating current North-South collaborations and facilitating research on NMPI. This project will benefit from the P.I.'s intercultural competence and long-standing research links with Nigeria and from the wealth of contacts built through previous and current other research projects. These will ensure successful dissemination of data gathered through current research affiliations, workshops, papers and publications.