School of History, Classics & Archaeology

Historian secures major project funding

Professor Crispin Bates, Professor of Modern and Contemporary South Asian History, and Andrea Major, University of Leeds, have succeeded in winning funding for a major Research Councils UK (RCUK) project. (Published 13 November 2014)

Indian labour diaspora

The project, Becoming Coolies: Rethinking the Origins of the Indian Labour Diaspora, 1772-1920 has received Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funding of £770,016.

Challenging existing assumptions

By placing Indian indentured labour migration in the context of longer histories of labour mobility in the Indian Ocean region in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Becoming Coolies project seeks to challenge existing assumptions about who 'first wave' Indian migrants were, how much information they had, and why they decided to migrate.

It will place the migrants' own incentives, understandings and individual outcomes at the centre of the story in order to critically reassess patterns of Indian migrant labour. The project will look beyond longstanding tropes of victimhood and passivity to re-evaluate the role of subaltern networks and subaltern agency in the process of migration, demonstrating how indentured migrants navigated and (re)negotiated identities that were ascribed to them by colonial observers - as slaves and sepoys, coolies and convicts - and exploited opportunities for social mobility.

A new approach

The project seeks to show that migrants drew on pre-existing patterns of labour mobility, and on familial and other networks when choosing to migrate, and thus contributed towards the expansion of systems that would inform choices of later, 'second wave' migrants.

The project will offer a new approach to the migrant experience that seeks to understand the impetuses and consequences of migration from a subaltern perspective, opening up possibilities for radically reinterpreting the nature and importance of migrant agency in the early formation of the Indian Diaspora.

New appointments

The project team will recruit two Post Doctoral Research Assistants, a Project Manager (part-time), and Research Assistants in India and elsewhere in the Indian Ocean region.