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Dr Sujit Sivasundaram


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 was 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

World History:

Indian and Pacific Oceans in the 18th and 19th centuries, esp. South and Southeast Asia and Polynesia.

Departments and Institutes

Gonville & Caius College:

Research Interests

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, science and medicine. He has published edited work on primary sources in the history of race. His writings have intervened in maritime and oceanic history. Through separate research projects he is developing methods for world histories alongside and within 'area studies', to help reconsider processes of bordering - eg. by focusing on islands (and the phenomenon of 'islanding'). 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').

His book for Harper Collins, 'Waves Across the South', will appear in 2020 and links the British empire and the age of revolutions in the oceans of the global South - the Indian and Pacific seas. Foregrounded here are the Tasman Sea, the Bay of Bengal, the Persian Gulf, Polynesia, and the Southwest Indian Ocean. The book tracks a maritime patriotism of the British Empire as it overtook the pulses - connected to culture, knowledge, trade and religion - which spanned the seas before it. He has worked in archives across the Indian and Pacific oceans for this project.

For Cambridge University Press, he is editing an account 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.

Recent papers and lectures include: the 2018 Fennell Lecture at the University of Edinburgh; a keynote to the International Congress of the History of Science in Rio, Brazil and a keynote in Brisbane, Australia to the David Nichol Smith Seminar. In 2019, he will deliver the Royal Historical Society's Prothero Lecture; and keynotes at the International Society of Cultural History conference in Estonia and the British Society for the History of Science Postgraduate Conference.


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 supervises MPhil and PhD students working in the broad field of world and imperial history and is especially interested in transregional projects. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss potential post-graduate research.

Recent PhD students include:

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 Southwest Pacific, 1880-1920'; Tom Simpson (research fellow, Gonville and Caius), 'Frontiers in North-west and North-east British India'; Hatice Yildiz (research fellow, Merton College, Oxford), 'A Comparative History of Gender and Factory Labour in Ottoman Bursa and Colonial Bombay, c.1850-1910';  Alix Chartrand, 'The Evolution of British Imperial Perceptions in Ireland and India, c.1650-1800'; James Wilson, 'The Anglo-Dutch Imperial Meridian in the Indian Ocean world, 1795-1820' (Sackler Caird Fellow-elect, National Maritime Museum); Steph Mawson (research fellow  St. John's College), 'Incomplete Conquests in the Philippine Archipelago, 1565-1700'; and Lachlan Fleetwood, 'The Vertical Globe: Altitude and Science in the Himalaya, 1800-1850.'

Other Professional Activities

Director, Centre for South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge.

Director of Graduate Studies in the History Faculty, Cambridge.

Co-editor for The Historical Journal.

He is co-chair of the Race Ethnicity Equality Working Group at the Royal Historical Society and was one of the authors of its report and resource on racial and ethnic inequality in the UK drawing on a survey that generated in excess of 700 responses from historians across the UK.  

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). 

On the editorial boards of History Australia; The International History Review; Medical History. Have served as Associate Editor of Journal of British Studies. On the steering committee of the European Congress of World and Global History; on the advisory committee of the Otago Centre for Research on Colonial Culture in New Zealand. 

Key Publications


  • 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).
  • Oceanic Histories ed. with David Armitage and Alison Bashford (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).


  • 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



  •  ‘Materialities in the Making of World Histories: South Asia and the South Pacific’ in Oxford Handbook of History and Material Culture: World Perspectives ed. by Ivan Gaskell and Sarah Carter, forthcoming.