HIST-LIT 90EZ: The Global South Asian Diaspora





Instructor: Vikrant Dadawala
Meeting time: Thursday, 3:00-5:00 pm

The Global South Asian DiasporaOver the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, people of South Asian heritage emigrated out of their ancestral homelands in vast numbers, giving rise to one of the world’s largest and most geographically scattered diasporas. An estimated thirty million people of South Asian heritage live outside the Indian subcontinent today, with significant communities in the United Kingdom, the United States, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and the Middle East. How and why did South Asians choose to settle in new countries? In what ways did the act of emigration transform their sense of religious, ethnic, caste, and racial identity? How did their lives become bound up with those of other displaced or colonized people – in Africa, the Caribbean, and in the Americas? This course is divided into two units. We will begin by analyzing the “old” South Asian diaspora in countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. Consulting a mix of primary sources from the colonial archives, historical scholarship, memoirs, and recent fiction, we will reconstruct the life-worlds of indentured laborers, sailors, soldiers, and migrant traders in the nineteenth century. The second unit shifts focus to more recent history: postcolonial migration from South Asian countries to the United States, United Kingdom and the Middle East. Reconstructing the history of immigration law in these countries, we will analyze memoirs, films, and literary texts that explore the ambiguous place of desis in the 'First world'. Besides celebrated contemporary writers like Salman Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Mohsin Hamid, we will also engage with the work of lesser-known figures like Gaiutra Bahadur, Peggy Mohan, and M.G. Vassanji.