Reader in World History
Fellow, Gonville and Caius College.
Cambridge CB2 1TA
Sujit Sivasundaram was born and educated in Sri Lanka (in 'Sinhala medium' until 1992) and came to Cambridge in 1994 to study engineering and then natural sciences and history and philosophy of science. In 2008-10 he taught at the London School of Economics in South Asian and Imperial History. In 2012 he was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize for History. He has been a Visiting Professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), Paris; a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute of the National University of Singapore and the University of Sydney. He is the Sackler Caird Fellow, 2015-7, at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. He is a Councillor of the Royal Historical Society.
Subject groups/Research projects
Departments and Institutes
- Gonville & Caius College:
Sujit Sivasundaram has worked primarily on the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries in the Indian and Pacific oceans, with a special emphasis on South and Southeast Asia and Polynesia. His research is thus grounded in two separate regions set apart from each other by about eight thousand miles. He has worked thematically on the intersection of empires and globalisation with the environment, culture, technology, anthropology, archaeology, science and medicine. He has published edited work on primary sources in the history of race. He maintains an interest in maritime and oceanic history. Through separate research projects he is developing methods for world histories alongside and beyond 'area studies', to help reconsider processes of bordering - eg. by focusing on islands (and the phenomenon of 'islanding'), 'small seas', the engineered, visualised and divided port, and straits as bottlenecks. His earlier work on Christian missionaries and scientific knowledge has led on to a focus on material culture - and in particular the layering of different materialities (eg. oral/print, genealogical/historical) in the rise of History as a world discipline. He has also worked on the complex of the human and animal in colonial contexts (eg. elephants, 'wolf children').
He is currently working on two major projects.
First, for Harper Collins, a book tentatively titled, Revolutionary Empire, which tells the story of the consolidation of the British Empire before 1840 from zones of maritime interchange in the Indian and Pacific oceans. Foregrounded here are 'small seas', which do not normally play a central role in this period's story, such as the Tasman Sea, the Bay of Bengal, the Persian Gulf, Polynesia, and the South-west Indian Ocean. The book presents these spaces of the 'imperial meridian' in the context of alternative imperial stories, Dutch, French and American, in relation to revolution and counter-revolution and, with an attention to forms of militarism, religion, migration, culture and trade which operated alongside and within the imperial complex and across the waters. The end is to repluralise the account of the rise of the British Empire, and to show how the dreaming of the oceans of the south -- east of Cape Town -- was overtaken by empire. Thus far, he has undertaken archival work for this project in Cape Town, Yangon, Hobart, Wellington, Sydney, Canberra, Singapore, Delhi, London and Colombo.
Second, for Cambridge University Press, he is editing a summation of where the global turn has taken the discipline of the history of science, tentatively titled, Histories of the Sciences: Globe, Area, Empire, Nation and Beyond.
He is also co-editing work on the comparative histories of oceans and building essays for a volume on the long 19thC history of race (esp. in relation to the recapitulation of ideas, and shifting scales of context and comparison).
In the longer-term he is hoping to work on a project on the cultural history of engineering, visuality, and the 'new imperialism' of c.1900 in the Indian Ocean as a means of critiquing a particular moment in the consolidation of words like these: 'network', 'connection', 'circulation.'
The Part II Specified Paper, Paper 30 ''Islands and Beaches'': The Pacific and Indian Oceans in the Long Nineteenth Century', closely mirrors present research interests. Sujit Sivasundaram also teaches/convenes the Themes and Sources paper, 'The History of Collecting', with Melissa Calaresu and Peter Mandler; this represents a long-term commitment to teaching in museum settings. He teaches/convenes the MPhil option, 'Empires in Comparative Perspective', which is designed (with two experts a week in debate) to generate discussion across the World History Group, both Faculty and students, and also the Group's neighbours in Cambridge.
Director of the new MPhil in World History. He supervises MPhil and PhD students working in the broad field of world and imperial history and is especially interested in translocal and transregional projects. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss potential post-graduate research.
The following PhD students have recently completed:
Sandagomi Coperahewa (Professor at the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka) on 'The Politics of Language in Colonial Sri Lanka, c.1900-1948'; Dwayne Menezes on 'Hybridity, Agency and the Catholics of South Canara'; Jagjeet Lally (lecturer at University College London, UK) on 'Indo-Central Asian Trade, c.1600-1900'; Kate Stevens (postdoc at University of Otago, New Zealand) on 'Criminal Justice, race and gender in the colonial SouthwestPacific, 1880-1920'; and, Tom Simpson (research fellow, Gonville and Caius), 'Frontiers in North-west and North-east British India.'
Six current PhD students are working on the following topics: liberated Africans and public spheres in the nineteenth-century South Atlantic in Brazil, Sierra Leone and South Africa; the recurrence of rebellion in early-nineteenth century Sri Lanka; early modern English perceptions, histories and law in India and Ireland; the 17thC Spanish Philippines in relation to labour, religion and resistance; the Anglo-Dutch imperial transition in the Cape Colony, Ceylon and Java; the history of mountain-science in the Himalayas and the creation of global verticality; and, gender and factories in the Ottoman empire and late-nineteenth century India. Second supervisor for a PhD on the American Protestant encounters in the Pacific (with Andrew Preston); and, non-resident supervisor for a PhD at the University of Colombo on, humanitarianism and riots in 20thC Sri Lanka. MPhil students are working on: the 19thC 'coloured elite' of Mauritius; refugees and citizenship of the Rohingya of Burma; and elite African slaves in the Ottoman empire and India.
Other Professional Activities
Co-editor for The Historical Journal.
He was the Principal Investigator on an AHRC-funded grant which he held together with Prof. Simon Schaffer of HPS, Cambridge with the title 'Exploring Traditions: Sources for a Global History of Science.' This was also connected to the Graduate Research Group at CRASSH with the title, 'Global Science' and aimed to critique and discuss the present global turn in histories of science. Results of this project are forthcoming.
Series co-editor for CUP's 'Cambridge Oceanic Histories' series (with Alison Bashford and David Armitage); series co-editor for Palgrave Macmillan's 'World Environmental History' series (with Vinita Damodaran, Rohan D'Souza, James Beattie).
Associate Editor for The Journal of British Studies.
On the editorial board of The International History Review; Medical History.
- Nature and the Godly Empire: Science and Evangelical Mission in the Pacific, 1795-1850 (Cambridge University Press, 2005, paperback 2011).
- Islanded: Britain, Sri Lanka and the Bounds of an Indian Ocean Colony (University of Chicago Press, 2013; South Asian ed. from Oxford University, Press, Delhi, 2014 with foreword by Gananath Obeyesekere). Press review from Sri Lankan national newspaper, Daily News (Jan 2016).
- Science, Race and Imperialism ed. with Marwa Elshakry in Victorian Science and Literature, Vol 6, eds. Bernard Lightman and Gowan Dawson (Chatto and Pickering, 2012).
- Editor, Focus section for Isis on 'Global histories of science' with own contribution titled, 'Sciences and the Global: On Methods, Questions and Theory' Isis, Vol. 101, 2010, pp.146-158. This forum includes essays by Marwa Elshakry, Shruti Kapila, Niel Safier and Helen Tilley.
- Co-editor with Rohan Deb Roy, special issue, 'Nonhuman empires' in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Vol.35, 2015, pp.66-173, with own contribution titled, 'Imperial Transgressions: The Animal and Human in the Idea of Race.' This special issue includes essays by Alan Mikhail, Jagjeet Lally, Rebecca J. H. Woods and Etienne Benson.
- in American Historical Review, 2010, pp.428-452.
- 'Buddhist Kingship, British Archaeology and Historical Narratives in Sri Lanka, c.1750-1850', in Past and Present, No. 197, 2007, pp.111-142.
- 'Appropriation to Supremacy: Ideas of the 'native' in the rise of British imperial heritage' in Astrid Swenson and Peter Mandler eds. From Plunder to Preservation: Britain and the Heritage of Empire. c.1800-1940 (Oxford University Press, 2013), pp.149-170.
- 'Science' in David Armitage and Alison Bashford eds. Pacific Histories: Ocean, Land, People (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).
- 'Islanded: Natural History in the British Colonization of Ceylon' in David Livingstone and Charlie Withers eds. Geographies of Nineteenth-century Science (University of Chicago Press, 2011), pp.123-148.
- 'Race, Empire and Biology before Darwin' in Denis Alexander and Ron Numbers eds. Biology and Ideology (University of Chicago Press, 2010) pp.114-128.
- 'A global history of science and religion' in Thomas Dixon et. al eds. Science and Religion: New Historical Perspectives (University of Cambridge Press, 2010), pp.177-198.
- ''A Christian Benares': Orientalism, science and the Serampore Mission of Bengal' in Indian Economic and Social History Review, Vol. 44, 2007, pp.111-145.
- 'Trading Knowledge: The East India Company's Elephants in India and Britain' in The Historical Journal, Vol. 48, 2005, pp. 27-63.
- Accepted and Forthcoming: 'Connection Critiqued: The Port of Colombo, the Geographical 'Circuit' and the Visual Politics of New Imperialism c.1880-1914' in Comparative Studies in Society and History.