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Professor Joya Chatterji


Joya Chatterji Joya Chatterji is Professor of South Asian History and Fellow of Trinity College. She joined the Faculty in 2007.

Joya was born in Delhi and took her undergraduate degree in History at Delhi’s Lady Sri Ram College. She won a scholarship to read History as an affiliated student at Trinity College Cambridge; and upon graduation, was awarded the Earl of Derby Prize for the most distinguished performance in the Historical Tripos at Trinity.  She went on to a PhD at Cambridge, and was elected to a Research Fellowship at Trinity College in the second year of her research.  She was appointed to a lectureship in International History at the London School of Economics in 2000, where she introduced the teaching of South Asian history, and the study of the comparative history of empires, into the curriculum.

Joya’s research interests have developed in three inter-connected directions.  The first focussed on the causes and consequences of India’s partition, from the particular perspective of Bengal.  Two monographs on these subjects (Bengal Divided, Cambridge University Press, 1995; and The Spoils of Partition, Cambridge University Press, 2007) were critically acclaimed and have been translated into Bengali. A pioneer of refugee studies, Joya has worked on borderlands to uncover their changing character over time and space.  The creation of minorities in new nation states, and the complex political and social processes by which they have experienced marginalisation and incorporation, is another preoccupation.  A third focus is migration and diaspora. Why some people migrate while others stay on is another question she has investigated; and this was a focus her most recent book, The Bengal Diaspora, (with Claire Alexander and Annu Jalais).  She has also edited, with David Washbrook, The Routledge Handbook of the South Asian Diaspora, (2013). Her next monograph,  to be published by CUP, pursues some of these themes in a sprawling study of ‘the global history of South Asian citizenship’.  She is writing a more popular work on 'the South Asian Twentieth Century', to be published in the UK by Bodley Head-Random House, with imprints and translations in India, China, America and Denmark.

Joya’s work has attracted much recognition and a great deal of research funding. She won a MacArthur Prize grant in 1999 for her work on refugees, and in 2006, a Major Project Award from the AHRC for the Bengal Diaspora project. In  2013 her project on South Asian citizenship won her a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship. This body of work has also had an impact beyond academia. Her effort (with Claire Alexander) to embed the study of migration in the British school syllabus has been successful, and has continued to attract funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.   Joya has given keynote and distinguished lectures at venues round the world, from Harvard to NUS Singapore. She was elected to a Fellowship of the Royal Asiatic Society in 2013 and to the Royal Historical Society in 2017. In 2018, she was elected Fellow of the British Academy. 

Joya is a deeply committed teacher, and her teaching and imaginative curriculum development won her a teaching prize at the LSE in 2004. Since 2000 she has supervised, or co-supervised, over twenty-five PhD students, all of whom have gone on to prestigious post-doctoral fellowships or tenured posts in Britain and around the world. 

An active member of the wider scholarly community, Joya has edited the journal, Modern Asian Studies, since 2009, taking the journal in new, more Asia-facing, directions. She is on the editorial board of the Historical Journal, the Journal of Contemporary History and Economic and Political Weekly.

She was, until recently, the Director of the Centre of South Asian Studies at Cambridge. 

Joya and KartikJoya’s son Kartik was born in 1991.   From 1997 onwards, she brought him up as a single mother, with the support of a small network of friends and relatives. Being a mother has given her more satisfaction and joy than any other aspect of her life, rich and fulfilling though it has been.  It also taught her to be disciplined about the use of time, and to keep, more or less successfully, many balls in the air.  History is, for Joya, an obsession, and it helps her keep her mind off other worries. In 2012, just as Kartik began to be independent, Joya was diagnosed with a serious, incurable and disabling illness; so once more, she finds that there is much to do and very little time. The care of her husband, son, siblings, and friends; the affection of her ‘family’ of PhD students; the unstinting support of colleagues at Trinity, the History Faculty, the Centre and Modern Asian Studies; and of course, historical research, keep her going. Her brilliant team of doctors try to persuade her to ‘pace herself’. For the most part, she ignores their advice.