Sumit Guha

Sumit Guha

Fellow: Awarded 2008
Field of Study: South Asian Studies

Competition: US & Canada

Education: Rutgers University

I am currently a Professor in the Rutgers University Department of History and also Director of Rutgers’ South Asian Studies Program.  My academic career began when I graduated with Honors in history from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, and joined the M.A. history program at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.  After the M.A. I went on to complete a Ph.D. at Cambridge University in 1981.  A revised version of the thesis was published as The Agrarian Economy of the Bombay Deccan 1818-1941 in 1985.

Immediately upon my return from Cambridge, I was hired by St. Stephen’s College and remained there for the next eleven years, during which time I took an active part in the curricular and extra-curricular activities of the College and was especially active in the Hiking Club.  I completed the Rath Delhi Open Marathon in 1983, placing 38th.  My interdisciplinary interests led me to take two years of leave–in 1986-87 and 1987-88.  These were spent at the Centre for Development Studies in Trivandrum, India, as Visiting Scholar and lecturer in the Economics Department, Delhi School of Economics.  I used these periods to develop my interests in demography and environmental history that are well represented in my list of publications and to undertake a full-scale revision of the agricultural statistics of the British period in India.

In 1991 I was awarded a research fellowship at the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, Delhi, which I held until October 1996.  Most of my research to date has been focused on the 19th and 20th centuries.  But I had come to realize that both environmental and social history needed to be studied over a long time span.  This fellowship enabled me to equip myself with additional research tools–notably to learn the difficult Modi script in which government records were kept in pre-British times and to investigate the various archives in India and elsewhere.

I had long known of the exciting cross-disciplinary seminar organzied by Professor James Scott at Yale and decided that my research in the long-period interaction of environmental studies and minority ethnic groups would benefit from exposure to it.  I was awarded one of the Program-funded fellowships for 1994-95.  The stimulating environment of the Program in Agrarian Studies and the rich collections of the Yale University library immensely aided the maturation of my new project, which was a study of forest peoples and agrarian societies in India through almost 800 years.

An offer from a distinguished institution, the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, gave me the oppurtunity to continue work on this problem.  I joined IIM as Professor in the Environment Group in November 1996 and my book Environment and Ethnicity in India 1200-1991 was published by Cambridge University Press in 1999.  In July 1999 I was offered and accepted the position of St. Purandara Das Distinguished Professor in the History Department of Brown University, which I took up in January 2000.  In 2002 I published Health and Population in South Asia from earliest times to the present.  I also embarked on a study of pre-colonial historical materials in Indian languages and was awarded a senior fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (July 2003 – June 2004) to support my research into it.  I joined the History Department of Rutgers in 2004.

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