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Meet the Expert | Nira Wickramasinghe

21 May 2019

Meet the Expert | Nira Wickramasinghe

Professor Nira Wickramasinghe recently appeared in multiple media to comment on the attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday and the tensions after the bombings.  She is Professor of Modern South Asian Studies at the Leiden University Institute for Area Studies (LIAS).

Nira Wickramasinghe's primary interests are identity politics, everyday life under colonialism and the relationship between state and society in modern South Asia. Her current research addresses the genre of minor histories through studies of slaves and forced migrants in the Indian Ocean world. In addition to her research and teaching she regularly intervenes in public debates.

From 1981 to 1985 she studied at Université de Paris IV-Sorbonne (Licence and Maitrise) and during her studies at the University of Oxford (1985-1989, St Antony’s College) she earned her D.Phil (doctorate) in Modern History. After this, she became Senior Lecturer (1990-2002) and later Full Professor (2003-2009) at the Department of History and International Relations, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. In 2010 Nira Wickramasinghe was appointed as Chair/Professor of Modern South Asian Studies in Leiden. Since June 2018 she is Academic Director of Research at LIAS.

Professor Wickramasinghe has published broadly in her field. Her most recent books are Sri Lanka in the Modern Age. A History (New York: Oxford University Press 2015) and Metallic Modern. Everyday Machines in Colonial Sri Lanka (Oxford: Berghahn Press 2014). She is often invited to speak at international conferences and seminars. In January 2019 she delivered the Dr B.H. Farmer Lecture at The Centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge. She spoke about her recent research on ‘the registration of slaves and resistance in nineteenth century Jaffna’. The presentation (in English) is online available as an audio file, it can also be downloaded as a podcast.

Recently, Nira Wickramasinghe was approached by multiple media to comment about the attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday:

  • On April 21st Professor Wickramasinghe spoke to RTL Nieuws (in Dutch). She explained that Sri Lanka is just recovering after an almost thirty-year civil war. That is one of the reasons why the attacks came as a big surprise.
  • She appeared a number of times on France24 and on April 22nd explained (in French) the complex ethnic make-up of Sri Lanka and some common misconceptions.
  • The Dutch newspaper Trouw published an article on April 27th discussing the aftermath of the attacks in Sri Lanka and ‘the major and deep-rooted problems’ on the island. "Buddhism in Sri Lanka is strongly linked to the nationalism of the Sinhalese majority", Nira Wickramasinghe explains in the article.
  • More recently on May 15th Professor Wickramasinghe commented in the French newspaper La Croix on the tensions and violence in Sri Lanka after the attacks. She argued that today, any incident risks being instrumentalized, and converted into something more violent.

By project assistant Harkirat Sing, May 2019

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