James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of History
I am a cultural historian of South Asia and the British Empire and my research over the last few years has been largely in the areas of visual studies, the history of cartography, and gender. My recent publications in this area include The Goddess and the Nation: Mapping Mother India (Duke University Press, 2010); and two edited volumes, Barefoot Across the Nation: Maqbool Fida Husain and the Idea of India (Routledge, 2010), and Empires of Vision (co-edited with Martin Jay, Duke University Press, 2014). My pictorial monograph titled Husain's Raj: Visions of Empire and Nation was published in 2016 by Marg, Mumbai. My work in popular visual history led me in 2006 to co-establish Tasveerghar: A Digital Network of South Asian Popular Visual Culture. More recently, in collaboration with Heidelberg Sinologist Barbara Mittler, I have started a comparative project titled, "No Parallel?: The Fatherly Bodies of Gandhi and Mao." This project has been funded by the Humboldt Foundation which honored me in 2016 with the Annaliese Maier Research Award.
I am also pursuing a new research agenda on the cultures of learning in colonial and postcolonial India. As part of this agenda, I have recently published a monograph titled Terrestrial Lessons: The Conquest of the World as Globe (University of Chicago Press, 2017), in which I explore the debates in colonial India about the shape and disposition of the earth in the universe and examine the course of science education conducted around the terrestrial globe as a pedagogic object as it enters Indian schools.
A second project tentatively titled "A Strange Kindness? Giving & Learning in Tamil India," draws upon my experience as Program Officer for Education, Arts & Culture for the Ford Foundation in New Delhi (2002-2005). It charts the ethical, economic and political impulses that have governed private philanthropy directed towards the establishment of colleges and universities across Tamil India from the 19th century into the present.
Anneliese Maier Research Award awarded by Alexander Von Humboldt Foundation (Principal Investigator). 2016 to 2021
Cartography and Creativity in the Age of Global Empire awarded by Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation (Principal Investigator). 2012
Barefoot Across India: Art & The Politics of Risk awarded by Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation (Principal Investigator). 2009 to 2010
Fellowships, Supported Research, & Other Grants
Senior Short-Term Fellow awarded by American Institute of Indian Studies (2015)
Duke Endowment Fellow awarded by National Humanities Center (2013)
Directeur d'etudes invite à l'Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales awarded by l'Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris (2011)
Senior Short-Term Fellow awarded by American Institute of Indian Studies (2010)
Shivdasani Fellow awarded by Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (2008)
Franklin Research Grant awarded by American Philosophical Society (2007)
Fellow awarded by John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (2001)
Fredrick Burkhardt Residential Fellowship awarded by American Council of Learned Societies (2001)
Advanced Research Grant awarded by Social Science Research Council (1997)
Ramaswamy, S. Terrestrial Lessons: The Conquest of the World as Globe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.
Ramaswamy, S. Husain's Raj: Visions of Empire and Nation in Postcolonial India. Mumbai: Marg Publishers, 2016.
Brosius, C., S. Ramaswamy, and Y. Saeed, eds. Visual Homes, Image Worlds: Essays from Tasveer Ghar, the House of Pictures. New Delhi: Yoda Press, 2015.
Jay, M., and S. Ramaswamy, eds. Empires of Vision: A Reader. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.
Ramaswamy, S. The Goddess and the Nation: Mapping Mother India. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.
Ramaswamy, S., ed. Barefoot across the Nation: Maqbool Fida Husain and the Idea of India. London: Routledge, 2010.
Ramaswamy, S. The lost land of Lemuria: Fabulous geographies, catastrophic histories, 2004.
Ramaswamy, S., ed. Beyond Appearances?: Visual Practices and Ideologies in Modern India. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2003.
Ramaswamy, S. Passions of the Tongue: Language Devotion in Tamil India, 1891-1970. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1997.
Ramaswamy, S. “A. R. Venkatachalapathy, The Province of the Book: Scholars, Scribes, and Scribblers in Colonial Tamilandu (New Delhi: Permanent Book, 2012)..” Journal of Asian Studies. Cambridge University Press (CUP), 2014.
Ramaswamy, S. “Arundhati Virmani, A National Flag for India: Rituals, Nationalism and the Politics of Sentiment (New Delhi: Permanent Book, 2008)..” India Economic and Social History Review, 2012.
Ramaswamy, S. “Alfred Hiatt, Terra Incognita: Mapping the Antipodes before 1600 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).” American Historical Review, 2010.
Ramaswamy, S. “Erwin Neumayer and Christine Schelberger, Popular Indian Art: Raja Ravi Varma and the Printed Gods of India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003)..” Contributions to Indian Sociology. SAGE Publications (UK and US), 2004.
Ramaswamy, S. “Susanne Hoeber Rudolph and Lyold I. Rudolph with Mohan Singh Kanota, Reversing the Gaze: Amar Singh's Diary, a Colonial Subject's Narrative of Imperial India (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2002)..” Journal of Asian Studies. Cambridge University Press (CUP), 2003.
Ramaswamy, S. “V. Geetha and S.V. Rajadurai, Towards a Non-Brahmin Millennium: From Iyothee Thass ro Periyar (Calcutta: Samya, 1998)..” The Indian Economic and Social History Review, 2000.
Ramaswamy, S. “The Geography of Gender, Review of Atlas of Women and Men in India (New Delhi: Kail for Women, 1998)..” The Book Review, 1999.
Ramaswamy, S. “Ranajit Guha , Dominance without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India (Mass: Harvard University Press, 1997)..” The Historian. Wiley, 1999.
Ramaswamy, S. “Geraldine Forbes, Women in Modern India (The New Cambridge History of Indian IV:2) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996..” The Historian. Wiley, 1999.
Ramaswamy, S. “Matthew Edney, Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India, 1765 - 1843 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997)..” The Journal of Asian Studies. Cambridge University Press (CUP), May 1998.
Ramaswamy, S. “Art on the Line: Cartography and Creativity in a Divided India.” In Mapping the Transition from Colony to Nation, edited by J. Akerman. University of Chicago Press, 2017.
Ramaswamy, S., C. Brosius, and Y. Saeed. “Visual Homes, Image Worlds: A Guided Tour Through Our House of Pictures.” In Visual Homes, Image Worlds: Essays from Tasveer Ghar, the House of Pictures, edited by C. Brousius, S. Ramaswamy, and Y. Saeed, 1–13. New Delhi: Yoda Press, 2015.
Ramaswamy, S. “Artful Mapping in Bazar India.” In Visual Homes, Image Worlds: Essays from Tasveer Ghar, the House of Pictures, edited by C. Brosius, S. Ramaswamy, and Y. Saeed, 50–67. New Delhi: Yoda Press, 2015.
Ramaswamy, S. “The Work of Vision in the Age of European Empires.” In Empires of Vision: A Reader, edited by M. Jay and S. Ramaswamy, 1–22. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.
Ramaswamy, S., and M. Jay. “Postcolonial Looking.” In Empires of Vision: A Reader, edited by M. Jay and S. Ramaswamy, 377–91. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.
Ramaswamy, S., and M. Jay. “The Imperial Optic.” In Empires of Vision: A Reader, edited by M. Jay and S. Ramaswamy, 25–43. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.
Ramaswamy, S. “Global Encounters, Earthly Knowledges, Worldly Selves.” In L’Inde Des Lumières: Discours, Histoire, Savoirs (XVIIe-XIXe Siècle), edited by Marie Fourcade and Ines Zupanov, 359–91. EHESS, Paris, 2013.
Ramaswamy, S. “The Work of Goddesses in the Age of Mass Reproduction.” In Transcultural Turbulences: Towards a Multi-Sited Reading of Image Flows., edited by Christiane Brosius and Roland Wenzlhuemer, 191–220. Springer Verlag, 2011.
Ramaswamy, S. “Barefoot across India: An Artist and his Country.” In Barefoot across the Nation: Maqbool Fida Husain and the Idea of India, edited by S. Ramaswamy, 1–20. London: Routledge, 2010.
Ramaswamy, S. “Mapping India after Husain.” In Barefoot across the Nation: Maqbool Fida Husain and the Idea of India, edited by S. Ramaswamy, 75–99. London: Routledge, 2010.
Ramaswamy, S., and F. Osella. “Charity and philanthropy in South Asia: A preamble.” Modern Asian Studies 52, no. 1 (January 1, 2018): 1–3. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0026749X18000100. Full Text
Ramaswamy, S. “Giving becomes him: The posthumous fortune(s) of pachaiyappa mudaliar.” Modern Asian Studies 52, no. 1 (January 1, 2018): 35–61. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0026749X17000531. Full Text Open Access Copy
Ramaswamy, S. “Conceit of the Globe in Mughal India.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 49, no. 4 (2007): 751–82.
Ramaswamy, S. “Visualizing India’s Geo-body: Globes, Maps, Bodyscapes” 36 (2002): 157–95.
Ramaswamy, S. “Beyond appearances? Visual practices and ideologies in modern India - Introduction.” Contributions to Indian Sociology 36, no. 1–2 (2002): VII–XII.
Ramaswamy, S. “Remains of the race: Archaeology, nationalism, and the yearning for civilisation in the Indus valley.” Indian Economic and Social History Review 38, no. 2 (January 1, 2001): 105–45. https://doi.org/10.1177/001946460103800201. Full Text
Ramaswamy, S. “Catastrophic cartographies: Mapping the lost continent of Lemuria.” Representations 67 (December 1, 2000): 92–129.
Ramaswamy, S. “History at land's end: Lemuria in Tamil spatial fables.” Journal of Asian Studies 59, no. 3 (January 1, 2000): 575–602. https://doi.org/10.2307/2658944. Full Text
Ramaswamy, S., and Filippo Osella, eds. “Charity and Philanthropy in South Asia.” Modern Asian Studies. Cambridge University Press (CUP), 2018.
Ramaswamy, S., ed. “Beyond Appearances? Visual Practices and Ideologies in Modern India.” Contributions to Indian Sociology. SAGE Publications, 2002.
Ramaswamy, S. “Going Global in Mughal India: A Digital Muraqqa,” October 2014.
Ramaswamy, S. “Bhārat Mātā,” 2012.
Ramaswamy, S. “Artful Mapping in Bazaar India,” March 2011.
Ramaswamy, S. “When a language becomes a mother/goddess: An image essay on Tamil,” April 2008.
Ramaswamy, S. “Midnight’s Line.” Edited by I. Dadi and H. Nasar. Lines of Control: Partition as a Productive Space. Ithaca, New York: Herbert F. Johnson Museum and Green Cardamom, 2012.
Ramaswamy, S. “Doing Pictorial History at the Roja Muthiah Research Library.” Māṟṟuvēli, 2010.
Ramaswamy, S. “The Politics of Prayer.” Frontline. Chennai, India, 1999.
Ramaswamy, S. “Ancient Indians in Southeast Asia: Plying the Eastern Trade Route.” The India Magazine, December 1982.
"India is Indira, Indira is India": M. F. Husain and the Aesthetics of India’s Emergency, June 1975. First Anniversary Lecture, Centre for South Asian Studies, London School of Economics. London School of Economics. May 2016
An Historian Among the Goddesses of Modern India. Oslo International Graduate Students Conference: Space, Culture, and Religion: Considering Implications of the Spatial Turn. University of Oslo, Oslo. May 2014
or the secular citizen-artist of our times, is the inheritance of the twentieth century a burden to be overcome, or a gift to be embraced? Iconic Interruptions explores this question with the help of some select works of Indian artist Gigi Scaria who lives and works in New Delhi. Over the past two decades, Scaria’s lens-and-screen based works have exposed with deep insight and searing irony the catastrophic outcome of runaway urbanization, environmental degradation, and human displacement, but at the heart of it all lies an abiding concern with the state of the Indian nation, forged and fostered over the course of the last seventy years and yet clearly in the artist’s vision in a state of crisis, especially with the consolidation of a majoritarian nationalism and the retreat from a vaunted pluralism. Occupying the cusp of what he has characterized as ‘the burdened past and the disconnected future,’ Scaria periodically recalls the iconic figure of the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, to interrupt a triumphal neo-liberal narrative of India 2.0 that has gained traction in recent years. Yet such a reactivation is not without an aesthetic awareness of the inevitable fate that awaits such founding figures and master men, be they Gandhi or Mao, Lenin or Stalin. Yesterday’s heroes and today’s icons are tomorrow’s relics, ‘a new layer of debris glittering on old trash.’  Curated by historian Sumathi Ramaswamy with the assistance of Katie King, Iconic Interruptions is a compelling reminder that artists like Gigi Scaria are conscience keepers of our times, as they are also creators against the grain of inherited pasts and foretold futures.
This project uses the tools of digital humanities to track the itineraries of the terrestrial globe in Mughal India. Supported by grants from the Arts and Sciences Committee on Faculty Research and the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University, I have undertaken this project as a cultural historian interested in documenting cartographic practices in the Indian subcontinent. Using Turning the Pages™ software, I have assembled imperial Mughal paintings from the seventeenth century in a digital album (muraqqa’) that showcases "the calculated display” of the globe of the earth within the frame of each work. I have also been concerned in this project in making available to a wider public a specific set of highly-specialized arguments regarding the arrival of the terrestrial globe as an object and as representation in India. Not least, this project uses the new tools of digital humanities to explore both the promise—and the limits—of online scholarship and curatorial work.