Universiteit Leiden

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Leiden University Centre for Digital Humanities

Nira Wickramasinghe

University Professor

Current Projects

The National Archives in London, Kew have made available (online) the slave registers that the British colonial government mandated in Sri Lanka/Ceylon between 1818-1832. The same database exists for 16 other slave colonies of the British including Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad.  In the case of Sri Lanka this data has never been collected or analyzed in a systematic way owing to the large number of entries. The proposed research entails in the first instant transcribing the 828 images in the slave registers on Jaffna (http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1129)  onto excel sheets and creating an easily consultable database.  With this research I hope to create a data base of over 10 000 slaves that will contain such information as the name/gender of owner, the place of residence, name of slave (slaves in Jaffna unlike slaves brought from outside the island kept their names), gender of slave, age of slave, children of slave, date of manumission, other details (death for example). This data once collected will be a unique source to reconstruct society in Jaffna, add complexity to our understanding of the structure of the caste system, produce insights into land ownership and labour  patterns according to produce (tobacco or palmyrah etc..)  It will also allow us on occasions to trace the lives of particular individuals, slaves or proprietors in the registers that I have encountered in my other archival source material, court cases or petitions. This project will feed into my on-going book project entitled 'Slave in a Palanquin. Slavery and Resistance in an Indian Ocean Island'.


Nira Wickramasinghe's  interests are in identity politics, everyday life under colonialism and the relationship between state and society in modern South Asia. She has  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, she has written on late colonial and modern Sri Lanka, using a variety of archives. In the last few years, her 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 ‘‘postnational’’. Her current research addresses the genre of minor histories through studies of slaves, migrants and mutineers in the Indian Ocean world.  She is analyzing slave registers to complement her archival data on lives of enslaved people.

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