Nira Wickramasinghe, historian and Professor at Leiden; her interests and output

nira wickramasinghe 1 Nira Wickramasinghe nee Samarasinghe was educated in France, and Oxford University and taught at the Dept of History, Colombo University before she snared the prestigious post of Professor of Modern South Asian Studies at the Leiden University Institute for Area Studies — a new position facilitated in part by the Leiden University Fund (LUF) and designed to provide a contribution to this field for a period of five years in the form of the LUF Chair.

For her profile NIRA says : “My primary interests are identity politics, everyday life under colonialism and the relationship between state and society in modern South Asia. I have pursued these interests through investigation into such diverse themes as politics of dress, civil society, citizens and migrants, and objects of consumption. Trained as a historian, I have written on late colonial and modern Sri Lanka, using a variety of archives. In the last few years, my work has moved from a focus on national history albeit from a non-state perspective to an approach that contests the nation as a frame and attempts to capture other dimensions of belonging which might be best encapsulated in the term ‘‘post-national’’. I am currently working on a book on ordinary peoples’ encounter with the ‘‘modern’’ using as a lens machines such as the sewing machine, gramophone, tram and bicycle. In addition to my research and teaching I intervene regularly in public debates and contribute essays and op.eds to Opendemocracy and the Wall Street Journal.”

Local sources: For most of her 25-year academic career, historian Nira Wickramasinghe has been interested in the politics of non-elite groups. The focus of her work has been South Asia, and in particular Sri Lanka, in the late British Colonial period (late 19th and early 20th century). In the process, she has moved somewhat away from her classical training and concentrated on studying less well-known archival sources: ‘Documents written in local languages, such as petitions to the Colonial Government, reveal the concerns and grievances of ordinary people.’ This provides a counter-balance to the mainstream view of Sri Lankan late-Colonial politics as very peaceful, especially by comparison with the situation in India, for instance. The petitions show that there were tensions, even if these were not so apparent in official state documents. Nira Wickramasinghe: ‘These sources, often less used in mainstream historiography, allow us to consider the nature of identity politics, and the reason why political identity evolves in the way it does.’

NIRA WICKS 22The voice of the majority: In her inaugural lecture, spanning the border between history and politics, Prof. Wickramasinghe discussed what she refers to as the political imaginaries of the people in South Asia. ‘In particular of those groups who often form the majority, but who have not sufficiently been represented in the larger historical narrative, because their contribution to the process of transformation was not made visible enough.’ Once democracy enters the picture, these groups, being the majority, are suddenly given a voice, at which point, understanding the historical context of their issues and concerns becomes an invaluable tool for a deeper insight into current politics.


  • Wickramasinghe,  N.K. (2012), ‘Democracy and entitlements in Sri Lanka: The 1970s crisis over university admission’, South Asian History and Culture 3(1):  81-96.
    (‘non-refereed’ artikel in een tijdschrift)
  • Wickramasinghe,  N.K. (2011), ‘Colonial governmentality: Critical notes from a perspective    of South Asian Studies’, Comparativ. Zeitschrift fur Globalgeschichte  und vergleichende Gesellschaftsforshung 21(1): 32-40.
    (‘non-refereed’ artikel in een tijdschrift)
  • Wickramasinghe,  N.K. (2011), Authenticity and hybridity: Scrutiinsing heritage, IIAS newsletter 57: 20-21. (‘non-refereed’ artikel in een tijdschrift)
  • Wickramasinghe,  N.K. (2010), Sri Lanka’s Independence: Shadows over a Colonial Graft. In:  Brass P.R. (Ed.) Routledge Handbook of South Asian Politics. India,  Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. Abingdon UK: Routledge. 41-51. (boekdeel)
  • Wickramasinghe    N.K. (2010), Sri Lanka. The Triumph of vulgar patriotism, Current      History 109(726): 158-162.
    (‘non-refereed’ artikel in een tijdschrift)
  • Wickramasinghe   N.K. (2010), Colonial Influence on dress in Sri Lanka. In: Dhamija J.  (Ed.) Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion. Vol 4. South Asia      and Southeast Asia. Oxford and New York: Berg Publishers. 249-254. (boekdeel)
  • Wickramasinghe   N.K. & Haniffa F. (2010), Sri Lanka. In: Dhamija J. (Ed.) Berg  Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion. Vol 4. South and Southeast Asia.   Oxford and New York: Berg Publishers. 95-101. (boekdeel)
  • Wickramasinghe   N.K. (2009), After the War: A New Patriotism in Sri Lanka, Journal of Asian Studies 68(4): 1045-1054.  (‘non-refereed’ artikel in een tijdschrift)
  • Wickramasinghe  N.K. (2009), The Imagined Spaces of Empire’. In: Jazeel T., Brun C. (Eds.) Spatialising Politics.      Culture and Geography in Postcolonial Sri Lanka. New Delhi, Thousand  Oaks, London, Singapore: Sage. 24-43. (boekdeel)
  • Wickramasinghe   N.K. (2009), Many little revolts or one Rebellion? The Maritime provinces of Ceylon/Sri Lanka between 1796 and 1800’, South Asia. Journal of South Asian Studies 32(2): 170-188.  (‘non-refereed’ artikel in een tijdschrift)
  • Wickramasinghe    N.K. (2009), Sri Lanka in 2008. Waging War for, Asian Survey 49(1): 59-65. (‘non-refereed’ artikel in een tijdschrift)
  • Wickramasinghe   N.K. (2008), Sri Lanka in 2007. Military Successes, but at Humanitarian      and Economic Costs, Asian Survey 48(1): 191-197. (‘non-refereed’ artikel in een tijdschrift)
  • Wickramasinghe    N.K. (2007), Sri Lanka’s Conflict: Culture and Lineages of the Past, Journal of International Affairs 60(1): 107-124. (‘non-refereed’ artikel in een tijdschrift)
  • Wickramasinghe   N.K. (2006), Unthinking the Terrorism-Globalisation Nexus’. In: Ahmed I. (Ed.) Understanding Terrorism in South Asia. Beyond Statist Discourses.      New Delhi: Manohar. 371-411. (boekdeel)
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (2006), Sri Lanka in the modern age. A history of contested identities.  London and Honolulu: C. Hurst and Hawaii University Press.
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (2006), L’Invention du Vetement National au Sri Lanka. Habiller le      corps colonise.. Paris: Karthala presse. (boek)
  • Wickramasinghe   N.K. (2006), La Petition Coloniale. Objet de controle, objet de  dissidence, Identity, Culture, Politics 7(1-2): 82-97.
    (‘non-refereed’ artikel in een tijdschrift)
  • Wickramasinghe   N.K. (2005), The Idea of Civil Society in the South. Imaginings, Transplants, Designs’, Science and Society 69(1): 458-486.
    (‘non-refereed’ artikel in een tijdschrift)
  • Wickramasinghe      N.K. (2005), University Space and Value : Three Essays. Colombo:      International Center for Ethnic Studies.(boek)
  • Wickramasinghe      N.K. (2003), Dressing the Colonised Body: Politics, Clothing and Identity      in Colonial Sri Lanka. New Delhi: Orient Longman. (boek)
  • Wickramasinghe      N.K. (2003), The Return of Keppetipola’s Cranium: The Construction of      Nationalism in Sri Lanka. In: Pandey G., Geshiere P. (Eds.) The Forging      of Nationhood. The contest over ethnicity, citizenship and history.      New Delhi: Manohar and SEPHIS. 129-156. (boekdeel)
  • Wickramasinghe      N.K. (2002), ‘From Hybridity to Authenticity: the Biography of a few  Kandyan Things’. In: Silva N. (Ed.) The Hybrid Island. Culture      Crossings and the Invention of Identity in Sri Lanka. London and      Colombo: Zed and SSA. 71-92 (boekdeel)
  • Wickramasinghe      N.K. (2001), History Writing: New Trends and Methodologies. Colombo:  International Center for Ethnic Studies.
  • Wickramasinghe      N.K. (2000), ‘Migration and Migrant Communities in early twentieth century Sinhala Nationalism’. In: Bates C. (Ed.) Community, Empire and      Migration: South Asians in Diaspora,. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 153-184.(boekdeel)
  • Wickramasinghe      N.K. (1997), ‘The Return of Keppetipola’s Cranium. Authenticity in a New Nation’, Economic and Political Weekly  32(30): 85-92. (‘non-refereed’ artikel in een tijdschrift)
  • Wickramasinghe  N.K. (1995), ‘History outside the Nation’, Economic and Political Weekly 30(26): 1570-1572 (‘non-refereed’ artikel in een tijdschrift)
  • Wickramasinghe   N.K. (1995), Ethnic Politics in Colonial Sri Lanka 1927-1947. New Delhi:  Vikas Publishers.(boek)

Specialist Field

  • Wickramasinghe   N.K. (2001), Civil Society in Sri Lanka. New Circles of Power. New Delhi,      Thousand Oaks, London: Sage Publishers.


  • Wickramasinghe      N.K. (17 September 2010), Rajapaksa Makes a Move: 9-9.
    (bijdrage in dag-/weekblad of tijdschrift)


  • Wickramasinghe      N.K. (2012), Review [Review of: (2011) Biyanwila, Sumithra Janaka: The      Labour Movement in the Global South. Trade Unions in Sri Lanka.] Geschichte.Transnational.
  • Wickramasinghe      N.K. (2006), [Review of: Banerjee, M. and Miller D. (2003) The Sari] Journal      of the Royal Anthropological Institute 12: 710-711.
  • Wickramasinghe      N.K. (1996), [Review of: van der Veer P (1994) Religious Nationalism.      Hindus and Muslims] Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 27: 78-79.
  • Wickramasinghe      N.K. (1995), Discourse of Difference [Review of: Metcalf T.R (1994)      Ideologies of the Raj, The New Cambridge History of India, Vol. III, 4,] Economic      and Political Weekly: 2864-2865.

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