Universiteit Leiden

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Nira Wickramasinghe

Professor of Modern South Asian Studies

Prof.dr. N.K. Wickramasinghe
+31 71 527 2982

Nira Wickramasinghe is Professor of Modern South Asian Studies at the Leiden University Institute for Area Studies.

More information about Nira Wickramasinghe

Fields of interest

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 ‘‘postnational’’. I have completed a book on ordinary peoples’ encounter with the ‘‘modern’’ using as a lens machines such as the sewing machine, gramophone, tram and bicycle. My current research addresses the genre of minor histories through studies of slaves, migrants and mutineers in the Indian Ocean world. 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.


I am willing to supervise MA students on projects concerning identity and national politics in modern South Asia. For PhD projects, I welcome those interested in topics relating to the social and cultural history of communities in South Asia and the Indian Ocean world  in the 19th-20th centuries.



  • D.Phil in Modern History, St Antony’s College, University of Oxford (1989)
  • Diplome d’Etudes Approfondies, History, Université de Paris IV-Sorbonne (1986)
  • Maitrise in History, Université de Paris-IV-Sorbonne (1985)
  • Licence in History, Université de Paris-IV-Sorbonne (1984)
  • Khagne, Lycée Fenelon, Paris 6 (1982-83)
  • Hypokhagne, Lycée Victor Duruy, Paris 7 (1981-82)


  • Full Professor of Modern South Asian Studies, Leiden University (since 2010)
  • Full Professor, Department of History and International Relations, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka (2003-2009)
  • Senior Lecturer, Department of History and International Relations, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka (1990-2002)

Key publications

Authored monographs

2015, Sri Lanka in the Modern Age. A History, (2nd revised edn) London: C.Hurst, New York/New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

2014,  Metallic modern. Everyday machines in colonial Sri Lanka, New York, Oxford: Berghahn Press.

2006, Sri Lanka in the Modern Age. A history of contested identities, London: C. Hurst and Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

2006, L’Invention du Vêtement National au Sri Lanka, Paris: Karthala Presse.

2003, Dressing the Colonised Body: Politics,Clothing and Identity in Colonial Sri Lanka, New Delhi: Orient Longman Publ., pp. 157.

2001, Civil Society in Sri Lanka. New Circles of Power, New Delhi, London, Thousand Oaks: Sage Publ, pp. 186.

1995, Ethnic Politics in Colonial Sri Lanka 1927-1947, New Delhi: Vikas Publ, pp. 289.

Edited volumes

1994, edited with Radhika Coomaraswamy, Introduction to Social Theory, New Delhi: Konark Publ. 1994, pp. 147.

1992, edited with Regi Siriwardena, South Asia Bulletin (Special Issue on Society and Culture in Sri Lanka) Vol. XII, No. 1, 1992.


2001, History Writing: New Trends and Methodologies, Colombo, pp. 98


A History of the World in 100 Objects: Statue of Tara


A range of courses in history and politics, including:

  • Histories of Modern South and Southeast Asia
  • Politics of South and Southeast Asia
  • South Asian Diasporas
  • Theories and Issues in Area Studies
  • Cultures of Resistance in a postcolonial world
  • Democratising History: Asia and the World
  • The India Ocean World: Sailors, slaves, scholars

PhD supervision

For enquiries about PhD supervision, please contact me after September 2019.

Completed projects

  • Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, The Adaptable Peasant: Agrarian Society in Western Sri Lanka under Dutch Rule, 1740 1800 awarded in 2004 (supervisor, with L. Wagenaar and L. Blussé)

  • Udan Fernando, Uneasy Encounters. Relationships between Dutch Donors and Sri Lankan NGOs, awarded in 2005 at University of Amsterdam (co-promotor, with Isa Baud at Uva)

  • Nadeera Seneviratne, Negotiating Custom: The Landraad in Eighteenth Century Sri Lanka, degree awarded in 2016 at Leiden University (promotor, with A. Schrikker and L. Wagenaar)

  • Priya Swamy, 'Let us Live as Hindus': Narrating Hindu Identity Through Temple Building Processes in Amsterdam Zuidoost (1988-2015), awarded in 2016 (promotor)

  • Dileepa Witharana, Negotiating Power and ‘Constructing’ the Nation: Engineering in Sri Lanka, awarded in 2018 (promoter)

  • Idrees Khanth, Nationalism and Public Discourse in twentieth century Kashmir (with Erik de Maaker), awarded in 2019 (promotor)

Current projects

  • Sarthak Bagchi, Clientelism and Patronage in Indian Elections: A Comparative Study of the States of Bihar and Maharashtra (with Ward Berenschot, KITLV)

  • Aditi Mukherjee, Dandakaranya: A Study of Rehabilitation and Development, from 1958 to the Present (with Sanjukta Sunderason)

  • Devshree Thanekar, Impact of globalization on Mumbai’s fishing villages

  • Esther M. McIntosh, State & society perceptions of minority participation in post-war local government institutions/pradeshiya sabhas (with David Henley)

  • Alok Oak, Colonialism, Desivad and Hindu Nationalism: The Political Philosophy of Bal Gangadhar Tilak (with Pralay Kanungo as co-supervisor

Grants and awards

  • Leiden Global Interactions Seed Funding for a project entitled ŒBeing a Slave: Indian Ocean slavery in local context' (with Alicia Schrikker, History Institute) - Sept 2016-July 2017
  • Asian Modernities and Tradition small grant for project entitled ŒBritish sources on slave trade from India and Ceylon/Sri Lanka in the 18th-19th centuries¹
  • Research Fellowship at the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies, Princeton University, Sept 2008- to July 2009.
  • Visiting Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Bielefeld, Germany, June 2006.
  • British Academy Visiting Professorship, University of Oxford, June 2005.
  • University of Colombo, Faculty of Arts Research Award 2004.
  • Fulbright-Hays Senior Scholarship 2003-2004 at the International Center for Advanced Studies, New York University
  • 2001-2002: the South-South Exchange Programme for Research on the History of Development (SEPHIS) post-doctoral fellowship for the translation my book ‘Dressing the Colonised Body’ into French.
  • Visiting professorship at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris France, April-May 1998:
  • World Bank Robert McNamara Fellowship 1998: on NGOs and Development.
  • SEPHIS post-doctoral 1996-1997 for post doctoral research on ‘Dress and Colonialism’.
  • ACUNS Fellowship, July 1994: at Brown University, Providence, USA.
  • Kodikara Award from the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies 1996:
  • Full Fellowship on the US Foreign Policy Process, at the School of Public Affairs, University of Maryland, Jan-June 1993.
  • Fellowship ‘Jeunes Chercheurs’ of the Centre de l’ Inde et de L’Asie du Sud, EHESS, 1990.
  • Overseas Research Scholarship (ORS) at University of Oxford 1986-1987.

Administration and service to the profession

  • Academic Director of Research, Leiden University Institute for Area Studies (LIAS) Starting March 2018
  • Head, BA Programme in South and Southeast Asian Studies, 2016 - 2018
  • Chair, Board of Directors of the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), Leiden, starting May 2016
  • Head, School of Asian Studies, Leiden University Institute for Area Studies (LIAS), 2011-2013
  • Chair, MA Asian Studies OLC Teaching Committee, since 2012
  • Directed (with Prof Michael Herzfeld) the IIAS summer programme on Asian Studies, May 2011 – Heritage conserved and contested: Asian and European perspectives
  • Member of the LIAS Advisory council
  • One of five coordinators of the Leiden University Profile Area, Asian Modernities and Tradition
  • Member of the Board of Directors of the International Institute for Asian Studies IIAS, Leiden
  • Member of the International Research Committee, Regional Center for Strategic Studies, Colombo, 2007-2010
  • Towards a New Age Partnership (TANAP) University of Leiden, External Supervisor in Sri Lanka 2003-2007
  • Member of the Selection Board of the ASIA fellowship (UPIASI and Ford Foundation) for 2006-2009
  • Member of the Selection committee for the SSRC (Social Science Research Council) South Asia fellowships 2005-2006
  • Member of the selection committee for Commonwealth fellowship awards, Sri Lanka, 2004
  • Senior Researcher on an ICES/NORAD project on Education and Values 2002-2003
  • Social Science Research Council (SSRC) New York consultant on a Survey of the Social Sciences in South Asia ed. By Partha Chatterjee
  • Consultant Ministry of Education on Curriculum revision for schools (Chairperson of History syllabus committee) 2005
  • UNDP consultant on Common Country Assessment 2000
  • National Integration Program Unit (NIPU) consultant on Textbook Project 2000
  • World Bank consultancy on Socio-Cultural Biases in History Textbooks in Sri Lanka 1999

Professor of Modern South Asian Studies

  • Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen
  • Leiden Institute for Area Studies
  • SAS India en Tibet

Work address

Matthias de Vrieshof
Matthias de Vrieshof 3
2311 BZ Leiden
Room number 0.06a


  • Carter M. & Wickramasinghe N.K. (2018), Forcing the archive: involuntary migrants ‘of Ceylon’ in the Indian Ocean World of the 18–19th centuries, South Asian History and Culture 9(2): 194-206.article in journal
  • Wickramasinghe N.K (2017), Review of: Perera S. (2016) WARZONE TOURISM IN SRI LANKA : Tales from Darker Places in Paradise, Pacific Affairs 90(4): 851-852.book review
  • Wickramasinghe N.K (2017), Citizens, Aryans and Indians in Colonial Lanka: Discourses on Belonging in the 1920s-1930s. In: Laffan M. (Ed.) Belonging and the Bay of Bengal: Religious Rites, Colonial Migrations, National Rights. London: Bloomsbury Academic. 139-157.book chapter
  • Bilgrami A. & Wickramasinghe N.K. (2016), Chapter 20, ‘Belonging’, in the final Report - International Panel on Social Progress (IPSP): https://comment.ipsp.org/chapter/chapter-20-belonging.report
  • Chakrabarty D., Wickramasinghe N.K. & et al. (2016), Minor archives, meta-histories. GLASS Faculty Roundtable, Praticas da Historia, Journal on Theory, Historiography and Uses of the Past (3): 93-124.article in journal
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (2015), Colonial Governmentality and the political thinking through '1931' in the Crown colony of Ceylon/Sri Lanka, Socio 05: 99-114.article in journal
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (2015), Sri Lanka in 2014: Cracks in the Edifice, Asian Survey 55(1): 60-66.article in journal
  • Wickramasinghe N.K (2014), Metallic Modern. Everyday Machines in Colonial Sri Lanka . New York Oxford: Berghahn Publ.book
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (2014), 'Sri Lanka in 2013:Post-war Oppressive Stability', Asian Survey 54(1): 199-205.article in journal
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (2014), Sri Lanka in the Modern Age. A History. London and New York: C. Hurst, Oxford University Press.book
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (2013), Producing the Present. History as Heritage in Post-War Patriotic Sri Lanka, Economic and Political Weekly XLVIII(No 43): 91-100.article in journal
  • Wickramasinghe N.K (2013), Fashioning a Market: The Singer Sewing Machine in Colonial Sri Lanka. In: Daniel T. Rodgers, Bhavani Raman, Helmut Reimitz (Eds.) Cultures in Motion. Princeton: Princeton University Press.book chapter
  • 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.article in journal
  • 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 .book review
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (2011), Authenticity and hybridity: Scrutiinsing heritage, IIAS Newsletter (Special Issue, The Asia-Pacific War 60 Years On: History and Memory) 57: 20-21.article in journal
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (2011), 'Colonial governmentality: Critical notes from a perpsective of South Asian Studies', Comparativ. Zeitschrift fur Globalgeschichte und vergleichende Gesellschaftsforshung 21(1): 32-40.article in journal
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (17 September 2010), Rajapaksa Makes a Move. Wall Street Journal Asia: 9-9.article in magazine/newspaper
  • 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.book chapter
  • 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.book chapter
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (2010), Sri Lanka. The Triumph of vulgar patriotism, Current History 109(726): 158-162.article in journal
  • 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.book chapter
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (2009), After the War: A New Patriotism in Sri Lanka, The Journal of Asian Studies 68(4): 1045-1054.article in journal
  • 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.article in journal
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (2009), Sri Lanka in 2008. Waging War for, Asian Survey 49(1): 59-65.article in journal
  • 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.book chapter
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (2008), Sri Lanka in 2007. Military Successes, but at Humanitarian and Economic Costs, Asian Survey 48(1): 191-197.article in journal
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (2007), Sri Lanka’s Conflict: Culture and Lineages of the Past, Journal of International Affairs 60(1): 107-124.article in journal
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (2006), La Petition Coloniale. Objet de controle, objet de dissidence, Identity, Culture, Politics 7(1-2): 82-97.article in journal
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (2006), L’Invention du Vetement National au Sri Lanka. Habiller le corps colonise.. Paris: Karthala presse.book
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (2006), Sri Lanka in the modern age. A history of contested identities. London and Honolulu: C. Hurst and Hawaii University Press.book
  • 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.book chapter
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (2006), Review of: Banerjee, M. and Miller D. (2003) The Sari, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 12: 710-711.book review
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (2005), The Idea of Civil Society in the South. Imaginings, Transplants, Designs’, Science and Society 69(1): 458-486.article in journal
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (2005), University Space and Value : Three Essays. Colombo: International Center for Ethnic Studies.book
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (2003), Dressing the Colonised Body: Politics, Clothing and Identity in Colonial Sri Lanka. New Delhi: Orient Longman.book
  • 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.book chapter
  • 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.book chapter
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (2001), Civil Society in Sri Lanka. New Circles of Power. New Delhi, Thousand Oaks, London: Sage Publishers.book
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (2001), History Writing: New Trends and Methodologies. Colombo: International Center for Ethnic Studies.book
  • 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.book chapter
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (1997), 'The Return of Keppetipola's Cranium. Authenticity in a New Nation', Economic and Political Weekly, Economic and Political Weekly 32(30): 85-92.article in journal
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (1996), Review of: van der Veer P (1994) Religious Nationalism. Hindus and Muslims, Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 27: 78-79.book review
  • 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.book review
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (1995), Ethnic Politics in Colonial Sri Lanka 1927-1947. New Delhi: Vikas Publishers.book
  • Wickramasinghe N.K. (1995), History outside the Nation', Economic and Political Weekly 30(26): 1570-1572.article in journal

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