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Dr B. Markus Daechsel

Dr B. Markus Daechsel

Dr. B. Markus Daechsel - Reader in Muslim Societies/South Asia

The ‘big question’ underpinning my work is how societies in the Global South have responded to the challenges of capitalist modernity in the 20th and 21st centuries. Their perspectives on a changing world take centre-stage in my teaching and research. I have a special interest in how ideas of ‘development’ have influenced the religious, cultural and political life of India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, with extensive research periods spent studying Pakistan’s great cities and their vernacular cultures. My quest to explore connected histories has made me read and teach widely, eager to join the dots between concepts and regions.

My job description is that of a ‘historian’ but I was not originally trained in this discipline. My background is in Middle East and South Asia area studies – an interdisciplinary approach to particular geographic regions. It combined (some) history with political and social theory, economics, Islamic studies, and language training in Arabic and Urdu. I have always tried to make the most of this non-standard background in the way I carry out my research, teach undergraduates and postgraduates, and supervise doctoral students.

Undergraduates who chose one of my courses will engage with literature from development economics, sociology, anthropology, religious studies, politics as well as with history narrowly conceived. Making comparisons between countries – ranging from Turkey and Iran to Bangladesh and India – has been a major aim throughout my teaching portfolio.

An interdisciplinary teaching ethos also underpins the way I supervise dissertations for Masters-by-Research and PhD. Projects have covered a wide range of topics - from development policy in Princely Bahawalpur and the use of emergency legislation by the British colonial state, to the politics of heritage preservation in contemporary Pakistan. The students involved come from disciplinary backgrounds as varied as my own. Some have been ‘classic’ historians and great craftsman of archival research. Others were more interested in oral history, or guided by critical social theory or a political science or literature angle. Many have been of South Asian origin - and I am proud to say - have since their completion made a strong contribution to academic life both in the UK and in India and Pakistan.

I am happy to consider the supervision of a broad range of South-Asia-related topics, but can best contribute research expertise in the following fields: development history, urban history, history of technology, and the intellectual history of political, social and religious thought. This reflects the various projects I have carried out over the years: from my own doctoral dissertation on middleclass nationalism in the cities of North India and Pakistan (first published as part of the Royal Asiatic Society series in 2006) to my more recent interest in the history of electrification in South Asia. A long-time guilty pleasure of mine has been the intellectual history of the Islamic radical Inayatullah Khan ‘al-Mashriqi’, to whose strikingly idiosyncratic writings I often return to understand how educated middle class Pakistanis have made sense of modernity.

When researching my monograph on urban reconstruction in 1950s and 1960s Pakistan (published with Cambridge University Press in 2015) I became increasingly aware that ‘development’ can only be told as a trans-national story. My research did not only take me to old haunts in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore, but also to Washington D.C. and Athens. Pakistan’s new capital city of Islamabad, it turned out, was to a large part planned and conceived in an engineering bureau with a direct view of the acropolis. A collaborative initiative on ‘Frontier Urbanism’ in post-conflict cities, and an evolving project in the intellectual history of a ‘Southern’ developmentalism reflect my new global outlook.

More information about my research is available via PURE

Email -

South Asia

Intellectual History

Development History


Urban History

Article in Neue Zurcher Zeitung, 28/4/2016; Guardian, 12/3/2009.

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