German Historical Institute London

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London WC1A 2NJ
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Phone: Tel. +44-(0)20-7309 2050



Dr Indra Sengupta

Head of the India Research Programme

+44 020 7309 2034

Indra Sengupta is a cultural historian of colonial and modern India in wider global connections.

My research includes the history of German Orientalism and Indology in the nineteenth century, colonial knowledge practices in India in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, monuments and heritage making in colonial India with a close interest in the bureaucracy of culture, the production and circulation of ‘popular’ histories in contemporary India, and colonialism and education in India. 

I am a Senior Fellow at the GHIL, charged with running the Institute’s India Research Programme, some of its learning programmes, and the Thyssen Lecture Series on ‘Science, Knowledge, and the Legacy of Empire’. The series is funded by the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung for a period of four years. I represent the Institute on the Joint Executive Committee of ICAS:MP and, along with Indian colleagues, I coordinate its thematic module ‘History as a Political Category’.

My current, principal research is a collaborative project called ‘Selling History: Tourist Guides, Bazaar Histories, and the Politics of the Past’ with Neeladri Bhattacharya (Ashoka University, formerly JNU New Delhi) and research assistants in India. The project is part of the Indo-German collaborative project ICAS: MP (Merian Kolleg), based in India funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research. (See below for further details.)

I was born and grew up in Calcutta (now known as Kolkata), completed my higher education and academic training in Calcutta (Presidency College/University of Calcutta) and Germany (University of Heidelberg).  I joined the German Historical Institute London in 2004. So, I suppose, my life story is my subject.


Research Project

Selling History
Tourist Guides, Bazaar Histories, and the Politics of the Past in India in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries

A photographs showing the ruins of the palace and temples built by Rani Bhabani, Murshidabad, partly overgrown with plants

My project examines historical tourist guidebooks and locally produced historical tracts that circulate around historical/heritage sites in Murshidabad in eastern India. The aim is to understand the mutually constitutive relationship between popular regional ideas of the past and the changing political sphere in India since the 1980s. This period witnessed the steady rise of Hindu nationalist forces that have successfully used non-academic narratives of India’s Hindu past – often centred on built heritage sites – to achieve considerable electoral success. As the site of the defeat of the ruler of Bengal by British forces in 1757, Murshidabad plays a central role in nationalist historical memory of the colonial conquest of India. The study of popular histories on site will provide us with clues to the development of political attitudes and the formation of sectarian identities in small locales and regions that are far away from the political centre of the Indian nation.

Further projects

Preserving India’s Past: Law, Bureaucracy, and Historical Conservation in Colonial India 1904–1925. A book project under contract with Routledge.

Research Group: Education and the Urban in India since the 19th Century – a collaborative project based at the India Branch Office

Responsibilities at the GHIL

Research Interests

  • Histories, heritage, and monument-making in colonial and post-colonial India
  • Knowledge practices in Colonial India
  • German Orientalism  

Education and Academic Background

2017-2020 Head of the India Branch Office of the Max Weber Stiftung in New Delhi
2012-2017 Academic Co-ordinator of the Transnational Research Group, Poverty and Education in India
2011–2012 Visiting Fellow, Cluster of Excellence ‘Asia and Europe in a Global Context’, Heidelberg University
2011 Acting Professor of History, Centre for Modern Indian Studies, University of Göttingen (substitution for Prof Ravi Ahuja)
2004–2011 Research Fellow in the History of Colonialism, German Historical Institute London
2003–2004 Lecturer (part-time – Lehrbeauftragte), South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University
2002–2003 Research Fellow (Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin), DFG-funded Orissa Research Project, University of Tübingen
1999–2002 Ph.D. (Modern History), Heidelberg University
1997–1999 DAAD Visiting Fellow, South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University
1988–1999 Lecturer in History, Loreto College, University of Calcutta
1987–1988 Senior Teacher in History and Political Science, La Martiniere for Girls, Calcutta
1980–1986 BA (Hons.) and MA in History, Presidency College, University of Calcutta

Fellowships, Grants, and Scholarships

1997-1999 DAAD visiting fellowship to Heidelberg University
1986 Merit scholarship of the University Grants Commission, India, for Masters Studies

Memberships and Affiliations

  • Member of Joint Committee of ICAS:MP (International Centre for Advanced Studies: Metamorphoses of the Political). A Merian Centre of the BMBF in India.
  • Joint Module Coordinator of TM1 History as a Political Category of ICAS:MP. 
  • Member of the Advisory Board of the DFG-funded, long-term project Das Moderne Indien in Deutschen Archiven.
  • Project partner in Valuing Pasts for Futures: Mobilizing Historical and Religious Narratives, Subproject of LAB 3.1, the Leibniz Research Alliance Value of the Past 




Monographs and Edited Volumes

with Geetha B. Nambissan, Nandini Manjrekar and Shivali Tukdeo, Shifting Landscapes: Education and Urban Transformations in India [Manuscript submitted for Publication by Sage Open Access Series for MWF/ICAS:MP India, forthcoming 2024]

with Daud Ali (eds.), Knowledge Production, Pedagogy, and Institutions in Colonial India (New York, 2011)

(ed.) Memory, History, and Colonialism: Engaging with Pierre Nora in Colonial and Postcolonial Contexts, German Historical Institute London Bulletin, Supplement No. 1 (London, 2009)

From Salon to Discipline: State, University and Indology in Germany, 1821–1914 (Heidelberg, 2005)

Articles and Chapters

‘Introduction’, in Geetha B. Nambissan/ Nandini Manjrekar/ Shivali Tukdeo/ Indra Sengupta (eds.), Shifting Landscapes: Education and Urban Transformations in India, co-eds. [Manuscript submitted for Publication by Sage Open Access Series for MWF/ICAS:MP India, forthcoming 2024]

‘From Text to Field. Georg Bühler and the Production of Knowledge in late Nineteenth Century India’ (Lecture at the Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (ÖAW), December 2021). [forthcoming in Beiträge zur Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte Asiens of the ÖA]

‘Preservation between Empire, Nation and Nationalisms: the Problem of History and Heritage in India’, in Mark Thatcher (ed.), The State and Historic Buildings: Preserving ‘the National Past’, themed section of Nations and Nationalism, 24/1 (2018), 110–30

‘Law, Religion, Heritage: Preservation in Late Colonial India. The Problem of the Thatta Mosque’, in Joaquim R. Santos (ed.), Preserving Transcultural Heritage: Your Way or my Way? (Vale de Cambra, 2017), 647–55

‘Culture-keeping as State Action: Bureaucrats, Administrators, and Monuments in Colonial India’, Past and Present, 226/Issue suppl. 10 (2015), 153–77

‘Monument Preservation and the Vexing Question of Religious Structures in Colonial India’, in Astrid Swenson and Peter Mandler (eds.), From Plunder to Preservation: Britain and the Heritage of Empire, c.1800–1940 (Oxford, 2013), 171–85

‘A Conservation Code for the Colony: John Marshall’s Conservation Manual and Monument Preservation between India and Europe’, in Michael Falser and Monica Juneja (eds.), Archaeologizing Heritage? (Berlin, 2013), 21–37

‘Orientalism zwischen Kooperation und Konkurrenz: Eine Kulturgesichte der altindischen Handschriften’, in Heidrun Brückner and Karin Steiner (eds.), 200 Jahre Indienforschung: Geschichte(n), Netzwerke, Diskurse (Wiesbaden, 2012), 7–26

‘Sacred Space and the Making of Monuments in Colonial Orissa’, in H.R. Ray (ed.), Archaeology and Text: The Temple in South Asia (New Delhi, 2009), 168–88

‘Locating lieux de mémoire: A (Post)colonial Perspective’, in Memory, History and Colonialism: Engaging with Pierre Nora in Colonial and Postcolonial Contexts, German Historical Institute Bulletin Supplement, No. 1 (2009), 1–8

Reviews and Miscellaneous Publications


‘Situating German Orientalist Scholarship: Edward Said, Orientalism and the German Predicament’; review of Lee M. Roberts (ed.), Germany and the Imagined East (Newcastle, 2005); Todd Kontje, German Orientalisms (Ann Arbor, 2004); and Sabine Mangold, Eine ‘weltbürgerliche Wissenschaft’ – Die Deutsche Orientalistik im 19. Jahrhundert (Stuttgart, 2004), in German Historical Institute London Bulletin, 30/1 (2008), 35–53

Review of: David Lambert und Alan Lester (eds.), Colonial Lives across the British Empire: Imperial Careering in the Long Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 2006), in SEHEPUNKTE, 7, No. 7/8 (2007)


GHIL Podcast interviews with GHIL Seminar Speakers Prabhu Mohapatra, Awadhendra Sharan (both ICAS visiting fellows) and Janaki Nair (visiting fellow of the India Research Programme), 2023 (Listen here)