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Professor Sarah Ansari

Professor Sarah Ansari

Professor Sarah Ansari - Professor of History (South Asia)

I am a historian of South Asia (aka the Indian subcontinent). Much of my research focuses on the province of Sindh (today in Pakistan), and more broadly explores issues of religion, migration, identity, citizenship and gender. My latest monograph (Boundaries of Belonging, CUP 2019, co-written with William Gould) explores citizenship and rights in early independent India and Pakistan. More generally, as the list of my publications underlines, my research interests tend to focus on the history of (1) the province of Sindh and its mega-port city of Karachi, and (2) the lives of women in South Asia.

South Asia – currently home to over 1.5 billion people – is one of the world’s geo-political hotspots, with fallout from its 1947 Partition still affecting how states and people there interact with each other. Understanding South Asia’s recent history, therefore, is key to making sense of its complicated present. Thanks to the creation of Pakistan at Independence, the province of Sindh - one of British India’s ‘frontier’ territories – was catapulted to the heart of a new state. As the leading historian of Sindh, my research has included exploring its controversial annexation by the British in 1843, the involvement of influential local religious elites (pirs) in the British system of imperial control, and the local impact of Partition’s upheavals on longer-term identity politics. Indeed, I’m proud of how my monographs - Sufi Saints and State Power: the Pirs of Sind, 1843-1947 (1992) and Life after Partition: migration, community and strife in Sindh, 1947-62 (2005) - helped to raise awareness of how Sindh fits into the wider South Asian history ‘map’.

Between 2007-10 I was Co-Investigator on an AHRC project entitled 'From Subjects to Citizens'. The process of exploring day-to-day interactions taking place between ordinary people and the state in its ‘everyday’ guise immediately following Independence led directly to my most recent monograph Boundaries of Belonging: localities, citizenship and rights in India and Pakistan (2019), co-authored with William Gould. Writing collaboratively for me has proved to be a highly rewarding experience (I've had done this once before in the shape of a Past & Present article co-written with Taylor Sherman and William Gould). I've also conducted collaborative research projects with universities in Pakistan, most recently (together with my Royal Holloway colleague Markus Daechsel) British Academy-funded early-career writing workshops in Pakistan, for which I drew on my experience as editor of the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (I am the first woman to edit this journal, whose publication began in 1834!).

I’m currently engaged in efforts to encourage more teaching of South Asian history in UK schools. For me, Partition (which effectively marked the beginning of the end of Britain’s global empire) *is* British history, particularly when we consider how many people in Britain today have direct connections with the events of 1947. Add to this the fact that Partition triggered the largest twentieth-century displacement of people (as many as 14 million?), and it is clear why it is still so relevant to today's world. Accordingly, since c. 2015, I have been working with community groups, inter-faith clergy, theatre companies, arts organisations, youth charities, schools, and race equality think-tanks to raise public understanding regarding the huge loss of life, refugee displacement and mass migration that accompanied the end of the British empire in South Asia. Moreover, the Partition Education Group, which I have co-chaired, forms part of a wider campaign to establish an annual 'South Asia History Month, which hopefully will be up and running in time to coincide with Partition’s 75th anniversary in 2022.

More information about my research is available via PURE

Email -

As Departmental Postgraduate Studies (Taught) Lead I’m the person to talk to about all things related to the Department of History’s Taught Postgraduate courses. If you are a thinking about applying to one of our MA Courses please do get in contact with any questions. For current students, I work closely with all MA Course Directors and Module Convenors so come and see me if you have any problems or questions about your academic or personal experience within the Department of History or access to learning resources more broadly. I also collaborate with both the School of Humanities and the University to ensure we are offering you the best learning experience.


History of South Asia


1947 Partition

Muslim women

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