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

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Samiksha Sehrawat
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
  • Capacity limit: 40 student places

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System


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

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 reading511:0051:00N/A
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities40:302:00Reading and research exercises to prepare for assessment.
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities22:305:00Film Screening
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities51:005:00Reading and research exercises to develop primary source analysis.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching81:008:00Introduction to themes in module & background information and seminar discussion on primary sources.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching102:0020:00Seminars
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops12:002:00Primary Source Exercise.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery31:003:00Support for learning and assessment.
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study521:0052:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Seminars encourage independent study and promote improvements in oral communication, problem-solving skills and adaptability. There will be a series of 8 seminars that cover the introduction to the module, alongside discussion of primary sources. Preparation for the main seminar series will require students to undertake a programme of private reading relating to South Asian culture and society. This will require good time management and personal responsibility for learning. Seminar preparation will require the student to read and analyse critically a wide range of literature. A workshop on primary source exercises, as well as reading and research exercises, will prepare students for the assessments.

Drop-in surgeries will ensure that students can seek guidance on each theme/topic for assessment but also for challenges to topics.

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M25Doc.commentary of 1,250 words (including footnotes but excluding bibliography)
Essay2A752,250 word essay (including footnotes but excluding bibliography)
Formative Assessments

Formative Assessment is an assessment which develops your skills in being assessed, allows for you to receive feedback, and prepares you for being assessed. However, it does not count to your final mark.

Description Semester When Set Comment
Written exercise2M200 word exercise on how studying gender history in this module has changed student's understanding of history and society.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

A formative written exercise reflecting on studying gender history will prepare students for the perspectives this module encourages. A documentary commentary will test knowledge and understanding of the texts set for the module. The ability to compare and contrast related source texts on a common subject will be developed. The essay will test ability to research, develop, and communicate an argument about a particular subject. This calls for both general knowledge and a detailed understanding of sources relating to the course topics.

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.

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.

Reading Lists