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Headshot of faculty member Debjani Bhattacharyya
Debjani Bhattacharyya, PhD
Assistant Professor, Department of History



My current research addresses two broad questions: how environment and ecological formations shaped law and economy from the eighteenth century onwards; and how the contingencies through which legal and economic imaginaries developed and globalized across the world in turn reshaped colonial environments. In particular I am interested in tracing how the specific geography of the colony, its rivers, seas, swamps, deltas and seasons shaped the legal and economic technologies during the period of European expansion and came to occupy the position of universal knowledge and science. I explore these themes from a South Asian perspective, especially by focusing on the Bay of Bengal delta, one of the active deltas connecting India and Bangladesh.

I am also interested in the transnational financial history of the early-modern and colonial maritime world of the Bay of Bengal region by exploring litigations, petitions, letters and private papers of merchants and traders. My second project focuses on shipwrecks in the Bay of Bengal in order to investigate how climactic and environmental changes from the eighteenth century shaped ideas about risk and instruments of insurance of imperial trade. 

As a graduate student I was also involved in an ethnographic project for documenting how homeless people in Kolkata envisioned their rights to the city. My research was awarded the Junior Fellowship from the American Institute of Indian Studies and The History Project funded by the Joint Centre for History and Economics, Harvard University (USA) and Cambridge University (UK). Before joining Drexel, I researched and taught at Jadavpur University (India), Heidelberg University (Germany) and Emory University (USA).

At Drexel I offer a range of courses on South Asian History, Global Environmental History, Science and Empire, Environment and Empire and Legal History. My research and teaching explores the ways in which urban, environmental and economic histories intertwine in what is increasingly known as spatial history or historical geography. I am also an elected member to the Professional Division of American Historical Association.

PhD, History, Emory University, 2014
MA, Literature, Jadavpur University, 2003

Selected Publications:
 Empire and Ecology in the Bengal Delta: The Making of Calcutta (forthcoming Cambridge University Press)
 Monsoon Landscapes: Credit, Climate and Calamity (in progress)

Peer-reviewed articles:
 “Fluid Histories: Making Property in the Marshes of Colonial Calcutta,” Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient. Special Issue on “Repossessing Property in South Asia: Land, Rights and Law across Modern/Early Modern Divide” (forthcoming 2018)
 “Hoarding Land: Interwar Housing Speculation and Rent Profiteering in Colonial Calcutta,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 36, no. 3, December 2016: 465-482. doi: 10.1215/1089201x-3699007
 “The History of Eminent Domain in British Colonial Thought and Legal Practice in South Asia,” Economic and Political Weekly Vol. L, no. 50 (December 2015): 45-53.

Refereed Book Chapters:
 “Ethics/ (Reading)/Sex: How do We Read?” Feminist Formations (forthcoming).
 ‘Geography’s Myth: The Many Origins of Calcutta’ in Gyanendra Pandey, ed., Unarchived Histories: The mad and the trifling in the colonial and postcolonial world (New York: Routledge, 2013), 144-158.
 ‘Nation-less Bodies and National Identity in Jyotirmoyee Devi’s Epar Ganga Opar Ganga’ in Ansgar Nünning, Birgit Neumann and Bo Petersson, eds., Narrative and Identity: Theoretical Approaches and Critical Analyses (Trier: Wissenschaftler Verlag Trier, 2008), 127-140.
 ‘Of Shadows and Silences: Militant Nationalism in Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines’ in Klaus Stierstorfer and Annette Kern-Stähler, eds., Literary Encounters of Fundamentalism: A Case Book (Heidelberg: Winter Verlag, 2008), 75-88.

Opinion Pieces/Studies/Entries:
 Co-authored with Adam Knowles, “Ideal Subject of Totalitarianism,” Revue des femmes philosophes (forthcoming Fall 2017)
 “Arbit” Special Issue on Everyday Keywords in South Asia, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies November 2017
 “Being River: The Law, the Person and the Unthinkable,” World Legal History, H-Law.
 “Soaking Ecologies: Rethinking Asian Urbanism,” International Institute of Asian Studies Newsletter, 76.
 “Manufactured Landscapes: Law and Hydraulics in the Bengal Delta,” Technology Stories: Past and Present, June 2016.
 “Wall Street Theke,” Anandabazar Patrika, November 6, 2012 (in Bengali)