Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Withdrawn Module: Race and Society in Colonial India, 1780-1930 (HI963)

Please note that this module was available
until 2011, but has since been
withdrawn and is no longer available.


Context of Module

This module may be taken by students on the MA in History, the MA in Modern History, the MA in the History of Medicine, or any taught Master's student outside the History Department.

Module Aims

The relationship between race and empire can be viewed in many different contexts, in relation to many different places and periods of time. This module takes up for consideration the history of race in India from c. 1780 (when the English East India Company was becoming established as the ruler of a large part of the Indian subcontinent) until c. 1930 (when the anti-colonial nationalist movement was already a powerful force). It seeks to understand and explain why it was that race became so central to the British – as part of their administrative practice as well as their social interaction – but also why it was that race became so powerful a factor in Indians’ own understanding of their past, their current identities and their future aspirations.

‘Race and Society in Colonial India’ is an investigation of both imperial and Indian history and of the changes that occurred over an extended period of time. By drawing upon the extensive secondary literature, it seeks to introduce students to some of the major controversies surrounding race and empire but also to suggest ways in which India under British rule produced distinctive social, cultural and political conditions that were distinctive from most other imperial situations.


Intended Learning Outcomes
  • To form a critical historical understanding of the meaning of ‘race’
  • To gain an understanding of the principal changes affecting race relations in India between 1780 and 1930
  • To evaluate the role of both ideas and practices in the making of race in an imperial context
  • To assess the different and changing attitudes to race by both the British and Indians
  • To identify and evaluate the role of scientific ideas and administrative practices in the formation of racial ideas and policies
  • To analyse and assess the main historiographical approaches to the history of race and society in colonialism India


Assessed and Non-Assessed Work

Students are required to produce two pieces of written work for this module. The first is a non-assessed essay of no more than 2,500 words to be handed in to the module tutor (Week 7).

You are also required to write an assessed essay of 5,000 words for this module (the word length, which excludes footnotes, should be clearly given on your essay). You should consult the Department’s Postgraduate Student Handbook for requirements and penalties for plagiarism and for late or over-length work.

The Department sets the date for the submission of the assessed essays.

The seminar discussions listed below provide a basis for essay topics. The following is a list of suitable questions for both and short and the 5,000 word essay, but if you wish to write on another topic or to approach it in a different way, especially for the assessed essay, you can certainly do so but only after having discussed it with the module tutor and with his explicit approval.

Suggested essay questions:

1. How and why Anglo-Indians (Eurasians) become ‘poor relations’ in India between 1780 and 1850?

2. To what extent did European society in India see itself ‘in an Indian mirror’?

3. To what extent did racial solidarity among Europeans in India replace or reinforce class divisions within white society?

4. How central was race to the Orientalist/Anglicist debate of the early nineteenth century?

5. To what extent did issues of gender inform or qualify questions of race in 19th-century India?

6. What was meant by the term ‘Aryan’ in the Indian context and how did the meaning of the term change over the course of this period (1780-1930)?

7. Was 1857 a ‘race war’?

8. How far did the Indian Mutiny and Rebellion transform racial attitudes in India?

9. Why and how did the increasing medicalization of India change racial perceptions and practices?

10. Why was prostitution and its regulation such a contentious issue in colonial India?

11. What was the connection between race and religion in nineteenth-century India?

12. How were ideas of race embodied in the army and other institutions of British rule in India?

13. Had ‘race’ acquired a distinctive meaning in British India by the late nineteenth century?

14. How and why did Indians internalize European racial ideas in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries?

15. Did the rise of the nationalist movement by 1930 intensify or diminish racial antagonism in India?

16. What were Gandhi’s attitudes to the race question?



Week 1: Race, Colonialism and Indian Society: An Overview

Week 2: The ‘White Mughals’: Myth or Reality?

Week 3: The Changing Fate of the Eurasians

Week 4: Orientalism and Aryanism 

Week 5: The Mutiny and Rebellion of 1857: A Race War? 

Week 6: Reading week

Week 7: Health, Medicine and the Science of Race

Week 8: Race as Government

Week 9: Race and the Rise of Indian Nationalism

Week 10: Race and the Late Colonial Order 


Illustrative Bibliography


These works provide a general introduction and background reading. Works marked with an asterisk * are particularly useful or provocative. [E] signifies an electronic resource. [naW] indicates works not currently available the Warwick University library but may be available elsewhere or are on order (or see me).

[1] Michael Adas, Machines as the Measure of Men: Science, Technology and Ideologies of Western Dominance

[2] C. A. Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914

[3] Christine Bolt, Victorian Attitudes to Race

[4] Jan Bremen (ed.), Imperial Monkey Business: Racial Supremacy in Social Darwinist Theory and Colonial Practice

[5] Bernard Cohn, Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge: The British in India

[6] Joanna de Groot, ‘“Sex” and “race”: The construction of language and image in the 19th century’, in Catherine Hall (ed.), Cultures of Empire, pp. 37-60

[7] D. Gilmore, Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity

[8] D. Goldberg (ed.), The Anatomy of Racism

[9] N. Hudson, ‘From “nation” to “race”: The origin of racial classification in eighteenth-century thought’, Eighteenth-Century Studies, 29, 1996, pp. 247-64 [E]

[10] Robert Irwin, For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and Their Enemies

[11] V. G. Kiernan, The Lords of Human Kind: European Attitudes to Other Cultures in the Imperial Age

[12] Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest

[13] * K. Malik, The Meaning of Race: Race, History and Culture in Western Society

[14] Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation

[15] * Edward Said, Orientalism

[16] * Nancy Stepan, The Idea of Race in Science: Great Britain, 1800-1960

[17] George Stocking, Victorian Anthropology

[18] Ann Laura Stoler, Race and the Education of Desire

[19] Heather Streets, Martial Races: The Military, Race and Masculinity in British Imperial Culture, 1857-1914

[20] K. Wilson (ed.), A New Imperial History


[21] * Clare Anderson, Legible Bodies: Race, Criminality and Colonialism in South Asia

[22] David Arnold, Colonizing the Body: State Medicine and Epidemic Disease in Nineteenth-Century India

[23] * ----, ‘European orphans and vagrants in India in the nineteenth century’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 7, 1978, 104-27

[24] * ----, ‘”An Ancient Race Outworn’: Malaria and race in colonial India, 1860- 1930’, in W. Ernst and B. Harris (eds), Race, Science and Medicine, 1700-1960, pp. 92-128

[25] K. Ballhatchet, Race, Sex and Class under the Raj: Imperial Attitudes and Policies and their Critics, 1793-1905

[26] C. A. Bayly (comp.), The Raj: India and the British, 1600-1947

[27] * Susan Bayly, Caste, Society and Politics in India from the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age

[28] Alison Blunt, ‘“Land of our mothers”: Home, identity, and nationality for Anglo-Indians in British India, 1919- 1947’, History Workshop Journal, 31, 2003, pp. 1-28

[29] Elizabeth Buettner, Empire Families: Britons and Late Imperial India

[30] Antoinette Burton, At the Heart of the Empire: Indians and the Colonial Encounter in Late Victorian Britain

[31] Indrani Chatterjee, ‘Colouring subalternity: Slaves, concubines and social orphans in early colonial India’, in Gautam Bhadra, Gyan Prakash and Susie Tharu (eds), Subaltern Studies X, pp. 49-97

[32] N. Chaudhuri, ‘Memsahibs and motherhood in 19th-century colonial India’, Victorian Studies, 31, 1988, pp. 517-36 [E]

[33] Elizabeth Collingham, Imperial Bodies: The Physical Experience of the Raj, c. 1800-1947

[34] Frederick Cooper & Ann Laura Stoler (eds), Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World

[35] Jeffrey Cox, Imperial Fault Lines: Christianity and Colonial Power in India

[36] * William Dalrymple, The White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India

[37] ----, The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi, 1857 [naW]

[38] * Nicholas Dirks, Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India

[39] Harald Fischer-Tiné, ‘”White women degrading themselves to the lowest depths”: European networks of prostitution and colonial anxieties in British India and Ceylon’, Indian Economic and Social History Review, 40, 2003, pp. 163-90 [E]

[40] ---, ‘Britain’s other civilising mission: Class prejudice, European “loaferism” and the workhouse-system in colonial India’, Indian Economic and Social History Review, 42, 2005, pp. 295-338 [E]

[41] Geraldine Forbes, Women in Modern India

[42] Holden Furber, Rival Empires of Trade in the Orient, 1600-1800, chapter 7

[43] Durba Ghosh, Sex and the Family in Colonial India: The Making of Empire [naW]

[44] Sumit Guha, ‘Lower strata, older races, and aboriginal peoples: Racial anthropology and mythical history, past and present’, Journal of Asian Studies, 57, 1998, pp. 423-41 [E]

[45] * Mark Harrison, Climates and Constitutions: Health, Race, Environment and British Imperialism in India, 1600-1850

[46] * C. J. Hawes, Poor Relations: The Making of a Eurasian Community in British India, 1773-1833

[47] Ronald Hyam, Empire and Sexuality: The British Experience

(for a review, see M. Berger in Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 17, 1988, pp. 83-9, and Hyam’s reply, ibid., pp. 90-8)

[48] * Ronald Inden, Imagining India

[49] Maya Jasanoff, The Edge of Empire: Conquest and Collecting in the East, 1750-1850

[50] V. Kaiwar and S. Mazumdar (eds), Antinomies of Modernity: Essays on Race, Orient, Nation

[51] * Shruti Kapila, ‘Race matters: Orientalism and Religion: India and beyond, c. 1770- 1880’, Modern Asian Studies, 41, 2007, pp. 471-513 [E]

[52] Kaushik Roy, ‘Recruitment doctrines of the colonial Indian Army’, Indian Economic and Social History Review, 34, 1997, pp. 321-54 [E]

[53] Deepak Kumar, ‘Racial discrimination in science in 19th-century India’, Indian Economic and Social History Review, 19, 1982, pp. 63-85 [E]

[54] * Joan Leopold, ‘The Aryan theory of race in India, 1870-1920: Nationalist and internationalist visions’, Indian Economic and Social History Review, 7, 1970, 271-98 [E]

[55] ----, ‘British applications of the Aryan theory of race to India, 1850- 1970’, English Historical Review, 89, 1974, pp. 578-603

[56] Philippa Levine, Prostitution, Race and Politics: Policing Venereal Disease in the British Empire

[57] ----, (ed.), Gender and Empire

[58] ----, ‘Venereal disease, prostitution and the politics of empire: The case of British India’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 4, 1994, 579-602

[59] F. Mannsakar, ‘East and West: Anglo-Indian racial attitudes as reflected in popular fiction, 1890- 1914’, Victorian Studies, 24, 1980, pp. 33-51 [E]

[60] * P. J. Marshall, ‘British society in India under the East India Company’, Modern Asian Studies, 31, 1997, 89-108 [E]

[61] * Thomas R. Metcalf, Ideologies of the Raj

[62] Clare Midgley (ed.), Gender and Imperialism

[63] Bart Moore-Gilbert (ed.), Writing India, 1757-1990

[64] Rudrangshu Mukherjee, ‘“Satan let loose upon earth”’, Past and Present, 128, 1990, pp. 92-115 [E]

[65] Sanjay Nigam, ‘Disciplining and policing the “criminals by birth”, Indian Economic and Social History Review, 27, 1990, pp. 131-64, 257-87 [E]

[66] David Omissi, The Sepoy and the Raj: The Indian Army, 1860-1940

[67] Nancy Paxton, ‘Mobilizing chivalry: Rape in British novels about the Indian uprising of 1857’, Victorian Studies, 36, 1992, 5-30 [E]

[68] ----, Writing under the Raj: Gender, Race and Rape in the British Colonial Imagination, 1830-1947

[69] Douglas Peers, ‘“The habitual nobility of being”: British officers and the social construction of the Bengal Army in the early nineteenth century’, Modern Asian Studies, 25, 1991, pp. 545-69 [E]

[70] ----, ‘Sepoys, soldiers and the lash: Race, caste and army discipline in India, 1820- 50’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 23, 1995, pp. 379-94

[71] David Potter, ‘Manpower shortage and the end of colonialism’, Modern Asian Studies, 7, 1973, pp. 47-73 [E]

[72] D. Reetz, ‘In search of the collective self: How ethnic group concepts were cast through conflict in colonial India’, Modern Asian Studies, 31, 1997, pp. 285-315 [E]

[73] * Peter Robb (ed.), The Concept of Race in South Asia

[74] ----, ‘Children, Emotion, Identity and Empire: Views from the Blechyndens’ Calcutta Diaries (1790-1822)’, Modern Asian Studies, 40, 2006, pp, 175-201 [E]

[75] John Rosselli, ‘The self-image of effeteness: Physical education and nationalism in 19th-century Bengal’, Past and Present, 86, 1980, pp. 121-48 [E]

[76] Indrani Sen., ‘Between power and “purdah”: The white woman in British India, 1858- 1900’, Indian Economic and Social History Review, 34, 1997, pp. 255-76 [E]

[77] * Mrinalini Sinha, Colonial Masculinity: The ‘Manly’ Englishman and the ‘Effeminate’ Bengali in the late 19th Century

[78] Percival Spear, The Nabobs: English Social Life in 18th Century India

[79] Beth Fowkes Tobin, Picturing Imperial Power: Colonial Subjects in Eighteenth-Century British Painting, esp. chapters 4 & 5

[80] * Thomas R. Trautmann, Aryans and British India

 In addition to these published sources, you can also consult electronic resources available to you through the University Library, especially: Empire on Line and

India, Raj and Empire. These give you access to government documents and reports as well as diaries, journals and other sources (such as Parliamentary Papers) that will be useful for your essay topic and give you a taste of the primary sources available. At the end of the day, there is no substitute (once you know what you’re interested in) in visiting the British Library in London (for books, printed materials and manuscript sources) or a major research library like that of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London to which you have free access via SCONUL and whose catalogue is available online.