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Inaugural Rex Nettleford Lecture on Colonialism and its Legacies

Professor Nandini Chatterjee, Professor of South Asian History at the University of Exeter, will deliver the inaugural Rex Nettleford Lecture on Friday 20th May 2022 on the topic of: ‘Coming from, not staying at the roots: dealing with colonial legacies of language and law in South Asia and beyond’.

The lecture, named in honour of former Honorary Fellow and Orielensis Professor Rex Nettleford, former Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, is intended to contribute to the advancement of academic research into the legacies of colonialism in all its forms.

In this year’s lecture, Professor Chatterjee will explore the practices of language and law in pre-colonial India. She will show how in early modern India, under the Mughal empire, the boundaries between various linguistic and legal traditions were porous, allowing for creative and pragmatic mixing in various contexts. Of these contexts, law was a particularly fecund area for complex and braided language use. With the advent of colonialism however, such linguistic and legal mixing was deemed to be unnatural and undesirable. Colonial administrators, missionaries and Indian socio-political activists all participated in the flattening of languages and laws into homogeneous, mutually exclusive entities. In such a situation, decolonisation is a fraught endeavour which risks replicating many of the ideas and practice of colonial governance. Professor Chatterjee will propose that the way forward is to discard the idea of an unsullied precolonial past, and instead work creatively and ethically towards futures that embrace impurity, humanity and playfulness.

Following the lecture there will be a presentation for the winners of the Rex Nettleford Essay Competition, in which Year 12 students were invited to submit an essay addressing specific aspects of colonialism. 

About Professor Nandini Chatterjee

Professor Nandini Chatterjee is Professor of South Asian History at the University of Exeter, working on law and cultural exchanges in the British and Mughal empires. Professor Chatterjee took her first degree in History at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India, followed by Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and gained her PhD in History at Cambridge University. She is currently director of the Exeter Centre for South Asia. In 2020-21, Professor Chatterjee was joint Chair of the History Decolonising Working Group at Exeter. 

Professor Chatterjee is the author of Negotiating Mughal Law: a Family of Landlords Across Three Indian Empires (Cambridge, 2020) and The Making of Indian Secularism: Empire, Law and Christianity, 1830-1960 (Palgrave, 2011). Together with colleagues in various fields, including the digital humanities, she has created two online databases of legal records. The first is Privy Council Papers, a rich catalogue of the records of the Privy Council, the former final court of appeal for the British empire. The second is a website of multilingual legal documents from early modern South Asia, written in Persian, Hindi, Marathi, Bengali and Arabic, and translated to English. The Lawforms website was produced as part of afive-year European Research Council-funded project called Forms of Law in the Persianate World, which Professor Chatterjee directed.

How to Book

The event is free to attend, and everyone is welcome. We recommend attendees book a space via our online booking form.

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