Prof. dr. N.K. (Nira) Wickramasinghe

  • Professor
  • Modern South Asian Studies

Telephone number: +31 (0)71 527 2982
Faculty / Department: Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen, Leiden Institute for Area Studies, SAS India en Tibet
Office Address: Witte Singel-complex
Matthias de Vrieshof 3
2311 BZ Leiden
Room number 0.06a

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. 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.


- D.Phil in Modern History, St Antony’s College, University of Oxford (1989)
- Diplome d’Etudes Approfondies, History, Universite de Paris IV-Sorbonne (1986)
- Maitrise in History, Universite de Paris-IV-Sorbonne (1985)
- Licence in History, Universite de Paris-IV-Sorbonne (1984)
- Khagne, Lycee Fenelon, Paris 6 (1982-83)
- Hypokhagne, Lycee 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

2014, Sri Lanka in the Modern Age. A History, (2nd revised edn) London: C.Hurst and New York: 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 Vetement 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 South Asian history and politics, including
- Histories of Modern South and Southeast Asia
- State, Politics and Economy in Modern South and Southeast Asia
- Nation, Community, Self : Questions of culture in South and Southeast Asia
- Contemporary South Asia
- Conflicts and Collective Violence in South Asia
- Reading Indian Nationalism
- History Theory Nation. Readings from the South

PhD supervision

  • Sarthak Bagchi, Clientelism and Patronage in Indian Elections: A Comparative Study of the States of Bihar and Maharashtra, degree expected in 2016 (with Ward Berenschot (KITLV)

  • Aditi Mukherjee, Dandakaranya: A Study of Rehabilitation and Development, from 1958 to the Present, degree expected in 2016  (with Sanjukta Sunderason)

  • Devshree Thanekar, Impacts of globalization on Mumbai’s fishing villages, degree expected in 2016

  • Dileepa Witharana, Negotiating Power and ‘construction’ the nation: the engineering profession in Sri Lanka, degree expected in 2017

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

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

  • Nadeera Seneviratne, Negotiating Custom: The Landraad in Eighteenth Century Sri Lanka, degree expected in 2013 (with Alicia Schrikker)

  • Esther M. McIntosh, State & society perceptions of minority participation in post-war local government institutions/pradeshiya sabhas, degree expected in 2013  (with David Henley)

  • Priya Swamy, A Disobedient Diaspora: Living Hinduism in Osdorp, Amsterdam, degree expected in 2014 (with Chris Goto Jones as first supervisor)

  • Idrees Khanth, Nationalism and Public Discourse in twentieth century Kashmir, degree expected in 2015 (with Erik de Maaker)

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

  • Golam Rabbani, Commodifying Baul Songs: Consumerism and Devaluing Baul Philosophy in Bangladesh ­(with Dr Sanjukta Sunderason as co-promotor)

Grants and awards

- 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

- Head School of Asian Studies, Leiden University Institute for Area Studies (LIAS), 2011-2013
- 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

Last Modified: 11-12-2015