History, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, India

Fellowship : January to March 2019 as associate Fellow (previous fellowship: January to March 2018 and October to December 2016)

Discipline(s) : History

Area(s) of expertise : History of early modern and modern India

Pays : India

Research project (1) : "The Social Life of Trust: Credit, Crisis and Contract in comparative historical perspective"

The project intends to undertake a longue durée understanding of commercial practice and its changing context and to initiate a much needed conversation between history and other disciplines such as economic anthropology and law around the issues of commercial practice, and
their social and institutional locus. At the heart of the project is to consider the language, logic and limits of reciprocity and trust, a feature that is usually evident in its deficit. While the specific case study driving the project would be South Asia where the experience of formal colonial rule attempted to construct an appropriate “Indian Economic Man” and a legal subject, the project hopes to generate interactions with other areas of the world, to look closely at new work that opens up the relation between religion and trade and cross-cultural exchanges, to consider how social behavior was rendered predictable and repetitive , of how customs and laws linked diverse networks in unexpected ways.

Research project (2) : "Song Sung True: Performing the Nation after independence"

In many ways the work aleady done along with Janaki Bakhle and Amanda Weidman helped chart as late as 2005 a new field of music history for India, adopting a multi-disciplinary approach to the same. The project on making music classical as part of a nationalist mission, the social implications of the project and the marginalization of genres and communities was part of a renewed engagement with ideas of power and exclusion, with law and reform on gender and sexuality. Having worked and developed the project in some depth, Lakshmi Subramanian is interested in developing it in the context of a changing public in independent India when and
where regions and states began to articulate their stakes to new forms of identity and classicism. Much of the new politics was implicated in a reappraisal of Language concerns, caste practices and of new possibilities that institutions like the Radio, television held out and did not necessarily simply reinforce the rhetoric that had captured the national fancy. The project thus hopes to invite serious conversations with practitioners, with scholars who explore the materiality of music making as well as of those who look at citizenships challenges in a decolonized context. There has been very important work in Europe, specifically France, on Indian music and on the new challenges its pedagogy has faced and Lakshmi Subramanian is therefore keen on bringing these scholars in conversation with work that is happening in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Southeast Asia to think through issues of Politics, performance and representation.

Previous research projects

Research project, title (1) : "Trust, Law and Commercial practices in south Asia: A historical perspective"

The underlying rationale behind this proposed project is to think systematically and innovatively about the idea of trust seen as a modern promise and grounded in a very specific European tradition. It wishes to explore the notion of trust in non-European societies, especially south Asia where there was both a long and established tradition of mercantile and commercial practices that hinged crucially around relations of reciprocity. These features however, do not figure in standard understanding of Indian business and enterprise, partly because of the ways in which colonial knowledge reconstructed and reconstituted Indian mercantile behavior as treacherous, unreliable and dishonest and partly because of the eclipse of Indian business activity in the so called formalized sector. And yet given that Indian business men worked and operated in the high-noon of imperialism, controlled and operated the intermediate market or the bazaar and represented themselves in terms of trust, credit worthiness and reputation, it would seem somewhat incongruous to overlook those principles and dynamics that informed commercial and business operations that hinged on vital practices of accounts keeping, risk sharing and commercial mediation. This project hopes to address some of these issues by looking at trust and practice through a historical perspective – the early modern period between the late seventeenth and late eighteenth centuries, the period of formal colonial rule and that of post-colonial India where the so called informal sector accounts for a vast proportion of commercial and even manufacturing activity.

Research project, title 2 : "The “Scientific” Imperative: Music discourses in twentieth century south India "

This second project looks at a corpus of music related writing in South India and attempts to explain the choice of a specific scientific methodology for the same. Why was this such a pressing imperative and how and why did scientists intervene in the discursive practice that accompanied the classicization of music? What was involved in the emerging methodology for teaching and appreciation that was meant to enable an objective understanding of art practice rather than simply frame it within a template of subjective experience? The project will look at a range of writings by musicians, musicologists and scientists like C.S Ayyar and C.V.Raman whose work on the physics of sound was important and influential.


Lakshmi Subramanian, did her undergraduate and post graduate degrees in History from Calcutta University where she secured a high first. She pursued her doctoral degree in history in the University of Viswa Bharati (Santiniketan) under the mentorship of Dr.Ashin Dasgupta. Subsequently she received a number of important fellowships in the UK, Singapore, Australia and South Africa (Mellon fellowship) to develop her research work. She has taught in a number of universities in India and overseas (South Africa, Poland and Germany) and for the last seven years has been working in the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences in the capacity of Research professor. She has authored more than six major books on economic and cultural history of India, her special subfields of interest being trade and social networks in the Indian Ocean, histories of predation and the social history of music in modern south India.

Major publications

SUBRAMANIAN, Lakshmi, "A Sad Song of Musical Censorship in India and Pakistan" , Huffington Post, dec. 2016.

SUBRAMANIAN, Lakshmi, "Parsi Traders in Western India, 1600-1900 », Oxford Research Encyclopedia en ligne, 2017.

SUBRAMANIAN, Lakshmi, Three merchants of Bombay, Penguin, India, 2012.

SUBRAMANIAN, Lakshmi, A history of India 1707-1857, Orient Blackswan, Delhi, 2010.

SUBRAMANIAN, Lakshmi, Veena Dhanammal The making of a legend, Routledge, 2009.

SUBRAMANIAN, Lakshmi, Ports, towns and cities: A Historical tour of the Indian littoral, Marg, Mumbai, 2008.

SUBRAMANIAN, Lakshmi, New Mansions for Music Performance, Pedagogy and Criticism, SSP- Orient Longmans, Delhi, 2008.