Module Catalogue 2022/23

HIS3326 : Women in Colonial South Asia: Tradition, Reform and Modernity

  • Offered for Year: 2022/23
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Samiksha Sehrawat
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
Pre Requisites
Pre Requisite Comment


Co Requisites
Co Requisite Comment



Students who are interested in non-European history or in gender history will enjoy this module, which uses lectures, seminars and film screenings to discuss a very important aspect of Asian societies: gender discrimination. There is a strong tradition of gender discrimination in India with women often receiving poorer education, health care and being at the receiving end of different forms of violence. The Delhi rape case in 2012 has been in the news internationally but is unfortunately not an isolated occurrence. Indian women’s position has also been historically important for British rule in India.

Women were at the heart of debates about ‘traditional’ Indian society and efforts to reform and modernize it. British rule over south Asia was justified in terms of the low position of women in Indian society and the colonial state intervened through new laws to act as saviours of Indian womanhood. British Rule in India was known for the banning of Sati in the early nineteenth century. Sati was the practice of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands and was believed by missionaries to signify the low position of women in Indian society. Laws were passed by the British colonial government to prohibit Sati or widow-immolation and to prevent child-marriage. This course will examine the debates that this created regarding women in South Asian society. Upper-class and upper-caste male reformers debated with the British the grounds on which reform would proceed. Attempts by missionaries to use these issues to encourage conversion to Christianity and the colonial state’s intervention were perceived by the orthodox as an attack on Indian society.

This module will examine the issues that arose in these debates through an examination of themes such as widow-remarriage, women’s education, purdah (practices of veiling women) and what it meant to be a good wife and mother. The course will discuss whether women’s participation in the anti-colonial nationalist movement was based on the understanding that women were the repositories of Indian ‘tradition’. It will ask what light women’s writing throws on their position in these debates and issues.

As this is a special subject, there will be extensive use of primary sources to reconstruct the viewpoints of different historical actors, including British colonial administrators, missionaries, South Asian male reformers, Hindu and Muslim women and British women.

The aims of the module are:
1) To understand how the position of women in India became a subject of both colonial and nationalist discourses and explore the role that gender can play in fashioning identities.
2) To provide an opportunity to acquire a sound general knowledge of the subject, reading widely and critically in the primary and secondary literature associated with it and to develop the capacity for independent study.
3) To provide an opportunity to investigate in some depth selected problems in South Asian history, including the appraisal of selected source material and the critical examination of current historiography.

Outline Of Syllabus

Week-by-week topics may differ from the following:

- Sati: Debates, Government Regulation and Reformist Discourses
- Widow-Remarriage and Social Reform
- Advice Literature for Women and Domesticity
- Women’s participation in the nationalist movement and the role of Gandhi
- Indian Women’s Education and Missionary efforts
- Women and Social Reform in Islam, North India
- Ideas of Conjugality and the Child-Marriage controversy
- Purdah: Veiling and segregation of women
- Indian Women’s Autobiographies

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

• Students will learn about the role of gender in shaping historical developments
• Students will develop a critical understanding of the history and historiography on selected
women’s issues in colonial South Asia
• Students will understand how the position of women in indigenous society was used to justify
colonial rule and to challenge it through reformist and nationalist discourses
• Students will develop a deeper understanding of how gendered subjectivities and identities were
fashioned in colonial India through autobiographical narratives and ideas of domesticity and

Intended Skill Outcomes

Subject-specific or Professional Skills:

• Students will develop their bibliographic and library skills
• Students should become more proficient in interpreting varied historiographical positions
• Students will learn to appraise the role of bias in primary sources

Cognitive or Intellectual Skills:

• Students are expected to improve their ability to read quickly and with an eye for the distinction
between the particular and the general
• To improve their research skills, developing their ability to collect and process textual information,
with analytical skills being developed through analysis of multiple texts with differing viewpoints
• Students should develop their ability to present arguments clearly and succinctly both on paper
and orally

Key Skills:

• Students will learn to manage their time
• Communication skills will be developed
• Group work skills will be developed through small group activity during seminars
• Students will be able to demonstrate an ability to challenge received conclusions

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion521:0052:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading521:0052:00N/A
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities51:005:00Reading and research exercises to develop primary source analysis.
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities22:305:00Film Screening
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching71:007:00Introduction to themes in module & background information and seminar discussion on primary sources.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching92:0018:00P-iP seminars. Need to be timetabled.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching31:003:00P-iP support for learning and assessment.
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities40:302:00Reading and research exercises to prepare for assessment.
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study521:0052:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesScheduled on-line contact time12:002:00Primary Source Exercise. Synchronous online, needs to be timetabled
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesScheduled on-line contact time21:002:00Synchronous online support for learning & assessment.
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Seminars encourage independent study and promote improvements in oral communication, problem-solving skills and adaptability. Preparation for seminars will require students to undertake a programme of private reading, requiring good time management and personal responsibility for learning. Seminar preparation will require the student to read and analyse critically a wide range of literature.
Some Lecture material will be provided to introduce students to unfamiliar content, especially where details about South Asian culture and society are essential to understanding the reading prescribed for the module.
Students will do individual and group research and writing exercises to ensure that they can engage in depth with themes of the module. These will include weekly discussion board activities, and other smaller writing exercises.
Drop-in surgeries will ensure that students can seek guidance on each theme/topic for assessment but also for challenges to topics.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1M25Doc.commentary of 1,250 words (including footnotes but excluding bibliography)
Essay1A752,250 word essay (including footnotes but excluding bibliography)
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Written exercise1M200 word exercise on how studying gender history in this module has changed student's understanding of history and society.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Documentary commentary exercises test knowledge and understanding of the texts set for the module. The ability to compare and contrast related source texts on a common subject. The ability to expound and criticize a textual extract lucidly, succinctly and with relevance in a relatively brief space.

Work submitted during the delivery of the module forms a means of determining student progress. Submitted work tests intended knowledge and skills outcomes, and develops key skills in research, reading and writing.

This module can be made available to Erasmus students only with the agreement of the Head of Subject and of the Module Leader. This option must be discussed in person at the beginning of your exchange period. No restrictions apply to study-abroad, exchange and Loyola students.

Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending semester 1 only are required to finish their assessment while in Newcastle. Where an exam is present, an alternative form of assessment will be set and where coursework is present, an alternative deadline will be set. Details of the alternative assessment will be provided by the module leader.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


Disclaimer: The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2022/23 academic year. In accordance with University Terms and Conditions, the University makes all reasonable efforts to deliver the modules as described. Modules may be amended on an annual basis to take account of changing staff expertise, developments in the discipline, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Module information for the 2023/24 entry will be published here in early-April 2023. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.