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Darshi Thoradeniya

Colombo Branch Office Manager of the South Asia Institute (SAI), University of Heidelberg, Germany

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Office Hours - Monday to Friday - 9.00 - 4.00 SPARC, University of Colombo



PhD History, University of Warwick, 2014

MA Women's Studies, University of Colombo, 2008

BA History (Hons), University of Colombo, 2002


My research interests are in history of medicine, development studies, women's studies and history of modern South Asia.

My doctoral thesis examined the strategic place that women’s health has played in Sri Lanka’s twentieth-century history. Sri Lanka gained prominence in international policy circles as an apparent ‘success story’ first as a ‘model colony’ in early 1950s and later as a ‘development model’ for South Asia by 1970s, based on its relatively high rates of women’s literacy (alongside its low maternal and infant mortality) and crucially low levels of fertility. In this success story women’s health serves as a linchpin to the attainment of national progress. But a focus on women’s health – as statistics and indicators – has also served to silence questions about Sri Lankan women’s broader experiences of their disaggregated health. In particular, while Sri Lankan ‘women’s health’ served the Sri Lankan state’s success story well, what is less clear is subsequent tellings of its other twentieth century Sri Lankan stories of late colonial, national, developmental, neoliberal and militarised phases.

Drawing on archival research conducted in the US, the UK and Sri Lanka, critical readings of published sources and extensive oral history interviews, my thesis traces the overlapping stories of the international population control agenda and its indigenisation in Sri Lanka. The dissertation’s chapters investigate the lives and work of late colonial elites who engaged extensively in social welfare work among their countrywomen, the agendas and discursive strategies of post-independence development planners and the travails of the physicians who conducted clinical trials of contraceptive pills in Sri Lanka. Particularly after the beginning of Sri Lanka’s prolonged conflict at the end of the twentieth century, the final chapters trace how reproductive health programmes were freighted with ethnic politics. I argue that the strategic importance of women’s health in this development ‘success story’ of South Asia has served to silence women’s individual corporeal experiences, let alone any possibility of the widely-hailed project of ‘women’s empowerment'.


‘Sri Lanka as a Laboratory for Pill Trials in South Asia (1950 – 1980)’ in Medical History, Cambridge University Press (forthcoming)

‘Altruism, Welfare or Development Aid?: Swedish aid for family planning in Ceylon (1958 to 1977)’, in Journal of East Asian Science, Technology and Society (EASTS), Duke University Press (forthcoming)

‘“Medical doctors do not accept any refreshment from us”: Oral Histories in a Medical Setting in Sri Lanka’ in Whose voices? The role of the interviewer in oral history in the Oxford Oral History Series (forthcoming)

‘Well-Woman Clinic: A New Shift in Women’s Health in Modern Sri Lanka’, inWomen's Global Health: Norms and State Policies, edited by Lyn Boyd-Judson and Patrick James, Lexington Books, 2014, (pp. 129-150)

Compiled the Course Module on Social Harmony SSE 3101, Nugegoda, The Open University of Sri Lanka, (2013).

‘Well-Woman Clinics: Women’s Health ‘Beyond Reproduction’ in Sri Lanka’ in Nivedini -Journal of Gender Studies, Vol.15, Nov.-Dec. 2009, Colombo, Women’s Education and Research Centre, 122-145


Joint Runner up of the William Bynum Prize 2013 (An International Essay Competition coordinated by the Medical History Journal with the support of Cambridge University Press)

Royal Historical Award for Postgraduate Students, 2011 – to conduct archival research at the Countway Medical Library in Boston, Rockefeller Archives in New York and Library of Congress in Washington DC

Cullum MacDonald Memorial Bursary, Graduate Programme in History, University of Warwick, 2011 - to conduct archival research at the Countway Medical Library, Boston, Rockefeller Archives, New York, Library of Congress, Washington DC

Welcome Trust Strategic Award (PhD studies - 3 years), Centre for History of Medicine, Dept. of History, University of Warwick, 2009 - 2011

Europe-South Asia Exchange Fellowship (MIDEA), University of Oxford, 2007

Univ. of Colombo Mahapola Higher Education Merit Scholarship for Undergraduate Studies, 1997- 2001

Invited Talks

‘Well Woman Clinics: Shift in Women’s Health in Sri Lanka’, Guest Lecture at the Population Association of Sri Lanka, Colombo, August 2011

‘Women's Health and Body: Development through Family Planning in Sri Lanka’, Seminar on Gender, Health and Well-Being, International Gender Studies Centre, Department of International Development, University of Oxford, November 2010

Selected Conference Papers

‘Why Pill Trials in Sri Lanka: Not India?’, Conference on Science, Technology and Medicine in India, 1930-2000: The Problem of Poverty, Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Warwick, October 2011

‘Of Emergences and Subjugations: Family Planning in Sri Lanka, 1953-2003, Conference on Politics and Practices: The History of Post-War Women’s Health, Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester, UK, October 2010

‘ICPD: A New Shift in Women’s Health in Modern Sri Lanka’, Conference on The Ethics of State Involvement in Women’s Health, Centre for International Studies and Levan Institute, University of Southern California, USA, April 2010

‘Women’s Health and Bodies in Modern Sri Lanka', Conference on Methods in Theory and Practice, Wellcome Trust Post Graduate Research Conference, University College of London, July 2009

‘Textual Study of Well-Woman Clinics in Sri Lanka’, the Eleventh National Convention on Women’s Studies, Center for Women’s Research, Colombo, Sri Lanka
October 2008

‘Ethnographic understanding of wellbeing in Sri Lanka’, Workshop on Conceptualization of Wellbeing in Sri Lanka, June 2007

Gihidinacharyawa (Daily Code for the Laity): Hygiene and Woman’s Body in Colonial Sri Lanka', Annual Research Sessions of the Faculty of Arts, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka, August 2006