School of History, Classics and Archaeology

Staff Profile

Dr Samiksha Sehrawat

Senior Lecturer in South Asian History



I work on the history of the rapidly expanding colonial medical infrastructure at the national, provincial and local levels by examining how the colonial state viewed provision of health care for Indians. My research shows that ideologies of rule were challenged by emerging discourses of anti-colonial nationalism and by professional groups. Another running theme in my work has been the interaction between the rural and urban areas of north India, informed by my experience of growing up in a village in Delhi. My research explores the social history of hospitals through the experiences of Indian troops (‘sepoys’) and rural Indian women in the twentieth century. In this, a central concern has been the influence of constructions of ethnicity and gender on health care in the military and in women’s hospitals.  


D.Phil. in History, University of Oxford
M.A. in Modern Indian History, University of Delhi, Gold Medalist
B.A. (Hons) History, University of Delhi

Previous Positions

John Anderson Research Lecturer, History Department, University of Strathclyde, 2006-2010
Research Officer, Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, University of Oxford, 2006


Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Member of Executive Council, Society for the Social History of Medicine

Conference Coordinator, Society for the Social History of Medicine

Honours and Awards

Felix Scholarship, 2001-2003
Overseas Research Scholarship, 2001-2003
Grants awarded by the Beit Fund, University of Oxford, 2005, 2003, 2002
Designated Studentship in Modern History, the Modern History Faculty, University of Oxford, 2004
Harrison Graduate Scholarship, St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford, 2004
Lala Ram Mohan Prize for the best graduate student in History, University of Delhi, 2001
Balaji Gold Medals, Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi, 2000, 2001


Research Interests

Indian history (especially Punjab, Delhi and Haryana)
Colonial and Imperial history
Gender history
Urban history
Environmental history
Colonial History of medicine
History of hospitals
Social history of warfare and military medicine
Medical professionalization
Missionary history

Current Research

My current Leverhulme Trust funded research examines the hidden history of how western medicine became global biomedicine during the age of empire. It will challenge the established Eurocentric history of biomedicine by foregrounding a neglected colonial history of hospitals, patients and medical finance. The book emerging from this project will analyse howwestern medicine and hospitals were founded and developed by imperial groups such as missionary organizations and British trained doctors. It will uncover the deep colonial legacy which shapes contemporary corporate social responsibility programmes and public-private partnerships meant to deliver medical care for the poor in the developing world. Decolonizing this history of biomedicine is important for understanding the persistence of poor medical care for vulnerable populations in the global south.

Future Research

My next project will recover the history of women colonial experts in India and the British empire in the early twentieth century. My focus is on how gender and race shaped British women doctors’ claims to expertise, and on mapping their international professional networks and research. I will ask how first wave feminism and activism shaped scientific and ideological discourses regarding maternal mortality in South Asia. It is important to recover this history because the centrality of these female experts in shaping development discourse in the early twentieth century has been ignored despite its long-lasting legacy. However, the project will not uncritically celebrate female agency, but rather seeks to shine a light on the role these women played in perpetuating imperial ideological frameworks in the newly emerging discourse of development and ‘colonial welfare’. Examining the activities and writings of these women brings into view several blindspots in our current understanding of the history of development, the gendered nature of the construction of the colonial expert, and what development means.

I also maintain an abiding interest in orality and the social history of rural Haryana, with attention to women’s folksongs, rural genealogists, oral traditions recorded by colonial ethnographers and the oral transmission of knowledge by ‘wise women’ and other folk medical specialists.

Past Research

My British Academy funded project ‘History of Women’s Hospitals in Colonial India, c.1885-1920’ explored the twentieth century history of the Dufferin Fund, the Association of Medical Women in India (AMWI) and the foundation of the Women’s Medical Service in India. It examined the intermeshing of the colonial state with ‘non-governmental’ philanthropic organizations seeking to improve health care for Indian women. Vicereines acting as incorporated wives and white women doctors acting as medical experts shaped ideas of ‘zenana’ health care in line with imperial ideologies. My research showed that by criticizing the ‘improving’ colonial state for inadequate intervention, the AMWI sought to expand the role of female doctors in health care.

Esteem Indicators

I was the Keynote Speaker for 'Ailing Empires: Medicine, Science, Imperialism’ Conference, University of Edinburgh (2019). I have been invited to present papers at the University of Oxford, University of Edinburgh, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (India), German Historical Institute (London), University of Kent, National Army Museum (London) and the National Library of Scotland.

I have refereed major funding applications for the British Academy (Tackling the UK's International Challenges and Knowledge Frontiers programme), the Wellcome Trust, Charles Wallace India Trust and the UK India Education and Research Initiative. I am a member of the British Council Newton Fund Review College

I have refereed book manuscripts for Oxford University Press, Palgrave Macmillan, Manchester University Press, Bloomsbury Publishing, Orient Blackswan and Continuum Publishers, UK

I have acted as referee for several academic journals, including Social History of Medicine, Women’s Studies International Forum, Journal of South Asian Development, Historical Research, Ethnicity and Health, South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal


'Decolonizing the History of Biomedicine: Patients and Hospitals in India', Leverhulme Trust Fellowship, 2018-19
British Academy Small Research Grant, 2010
Co-Applicant for Wellcome Trust Enhancement Grant for Centre for Social History of Health and Health care, Strathclyde, 2008, Wellcome Trust


English, Hindi, Haryanavi: Fluent in reading, writing and speaking
Urdu: Fluent in reading and speaking
Punjabi: Conversational
German, French: Basic

Ph.D. Supervision

I welcome students working on all aspects of colonial and imperial history, medical history, South Asian history, especially gender history, environmental history and the social history of the army.   

Former Ph.D. students include:

Dulma Karunarathna, ‘Female Representations in the Visual Arts of Late Historical and Colonial Sri Lanka’, Ph.D. student funded by International Commonwealth Scholarship
Antony Stewart, ‘Tracking Interventions through Medicine and Social Science in Haiti, c1900-1950’, Ph.D. student funded by AHRC Ph.D. Studentship
Emily Roope, 'Maternal Health and Gendered Development in Colonial South Asia', M.Litt. student


Undergraduate Teaching

HIS3126 Women and Social Reform: South Asia, c.1800-1950
HIS2133 Society and Politics in Colonial India: 1880s-1947
HIS3000 Reading History 

Postgraduate Teaching

SHS8025 Special Study Module ‘The History of Health and Colonial Medicine in South Asia’ and 'The Hospital in History' and 'Hospitals in History'
SHS8024 Introduction in the History of Medicine (team taught)