Partha Pratim Shil
I am an historian of modern South Asia, specializing in nineteenth and early twentieth century eastern India, with a developing research interest in the late eighteenth century. My work is located at the intersection of the fields of histories of state formation and labour history. I am particularly interested in the histories of government workers and how this labour history intrinsic to the state apparatus recasts our understanding of state formation.
I am currently working on the manuscript of my first book, provisionally entitled Sovereign Labour: Constables and Watchmen in the Making of the Modern State in India, c. 1860-1950. This monograph is a study of police constables and village watchmen in Bengal from the promulgation of the Police Act in 1861 until the upheavals of decolonisation in the mid-twentieth century. It reframes the history of constables and village watchmen, usually represented as government functionaries, as the history of a distinctive form of labour.
The most important methodological innovation of this study is to bring methods from the historiography of labour in South Asia in conversation with the vast archive of the colonial police and to demonstrate how we can rewrite police history as labour history. Sovereign Labour charts the contours of the market of security labour in eastern India and locates the emergence of colonial police workforces within the rhythms of this labour market. It reveals the patterns in the history of constabulary recruitment; examines the implications of the conditions of police work for the nature of police power; delineates the internal segmentation within the world of police labour, and the defining role of caste in shaping modern policing apparatuses in colonial India; and brings out fresh evidence about the myriad modes of politics devised by police workers in this region. More broadly, my aim is to clear a conceptual ground for the study of forms of labour within the apparatuses of the modern state as well as demonstrate how the history of the labouring lives of government workers can provide a fresh entry point into the nature of the modern state in South Asia.
Before joining Stanford, I was a Junior Research Fellow in History at Trinity College, Cambridge.