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Debjani Bhattacharyya, PhD

Debjani Bhattacharyya, PhD

Associate Professor of History
Department of History
Department of Global Studies and Modern Languages
Center for Science, Technology and Society
Office: 5025 MacAlister Hall
Phone: 215.895.0992


  • PhD, Emory University
  • BA, MA, Jadavpur University

Curriculum Vitae:

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Research Interests:

Modern South Asian history, urban environmental history, legal history, maritime history, history of economic thought and Anthropocene


Debjani Bhattacharyya, PhD, explores the intersection of legal and environmental history. Professor Bhattacharyya’s research is driven by the desire to understand how legal and economic structures order our conceptualization of environmental transformations and shape how we respond to climate crisis. Her book, Empire and Ecology in the Bengal Delta: The Making of Calcutta (Cambridge University Press, 2018) won the 2019 honorable mention for the best book in Urban History. The book documents how legal experimentation through the 18th and 19th century was central to reshaping the political economy of urban land and waterscapes in the Bengal delta. Through an environmentally grounded history of the urban land market, it argues that ecological change influenced practices of land speculation, urban planning and property law and shows how marshes were transformed into speculative property in the Bengal Delta.

You can hear Professor Bhattacharyya discuss her book Empire and Ecology in the Bengal Delta: The Making of Calcutta (July 2020), and talk about her other research, including Urbanism at Water’s Edge: The Fluid Histories of Property in Calcutta (May 2020), and Empire and Ecology (July 2020).

Currently, she is a fellow at the Center for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania. She is at work on her second book, Monsoon Landscapes: Credit, Climate and Calamity, about the long history of how marine insurance market’s risk apprehensions shaped weather knowledge, colonial oceanographic sciences and a derivatives market in climate futures in the Indian Ocean Region. She is a member of the Collaborative Platform of Ocean Space and an international collaborator in the Narrative Science Project, London School of Economics. Her program of research has been supported by American Institute of Indian Studies, The History Project funded by the Joint Centre for History and Economics, Harvard University, and Social Science Research Council. She held visiting fellowships at International Institute of Asian Studies (Leiden), Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History (Frankfurt) and the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies, Princeton University.

Professor Bhattacharyya’s work has been published in the Journal of Social and Economic History of the Orient; Comparative Studies in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East; Oxford Research Encyclopedia for Asian Studies; Economic and Political Weekly; Global Environment and Modern Asian Studies. She is the South Asia editor for History Compass and serves on the editorial boards of Environment and History and Comparative Studies in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Her writings have also appeared in The Telegraph, Amrita Bajar Patrika, n+1, The Diplomat and Somatosphere.

She offers classes on South Asian History, environmental history, legal history, urban history and climate history. She was the recipient of the 2018 CoAS Teaching Excellence Award.

Selected Publications:



Empire and Ecology in the Bengal Delta: The Making of Calcutta. Studies in Environment and History Series (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018) (Indian edition February 2019; Paperback June 2019).

Selected Articles:

“Indian City and its ‘Restive Publics’: A Review Essay,” Modern Asian Studies 53, no. 4 (2020), 1-31.

“Speculation: A Concept History,” Comparative Studies in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 40, no. 1 (2020), 51-56. Special Issue on “Concepts of the Urban.”

“Land Dispossession in South Asia,” The Oxford Research Encyclopedia for Asian Studies. ed. David Ludden (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019). DOI:10.1093/acrefore/9780190277727.013.189

“Provincializing the History of Speculation from Colonial India,” History Compass, 17: e12517 (2019)doi:10.1111/hic3.12517

“Fluid Histories: Swamps, Law and the Company-State in Colonial Bengal,” Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient. 61, no. 5-6 (2018): 1036-73. Special Issue on “Repossessing Property in South Asia: Land, Rights and Law across Modern/Early Modern Divide.” doi:10.1163/15685209-12341466

“Discipline and Drain: Settling the Moving Bengal Delta,” Global Environment 11, (2018): 236-257. Special Issue on “Environment, Disaster and Property.” doi:10.3197/ge.2018.110203

“Ethics/ Reading /Sex: How do We Read?” Feminist Formations 29, no. 3 (2017): 193-7. doi:10.1353/ff.2017.0041

“Hoarding Land: Interwar Housing Speculation and Rent Profiteering in Colonial Calcutta,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 36, no. 3 (2016): 465-82.


“The History of Eminent Domain in British Colonial Thought and Legal Practice in South Asia,” Economic and Political Weekly 50, no. 50 (2015): 45-53.


Selected Book Chapters:



“Politics of Dwelling: Divergent Spaces in Calcutta,” Richardson Dilworth and Timothy Weaver eds. Role of Ideas in Urban Political Development, (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020), 202-14.



“Geography’s Myth: The Many Origins of Calcutta” Gyanendra Pandey, ed., Unarchived Histories: The Mad and the Trifling in the Colonial and Postcolonial World (New York: Routledge, 2013), 144-58.