Reproducing Empire, Birthing the Nation: Women's Health and Reproduction in Modern India: Context (HIH3017)

StaffDr Rebecca Williams - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Pre-requisitesAt least 90 credits of History at Level 1 and/or Level 2
Co-requisitesReproducing Empire, Birthing the Nation: Women’s Health and Reproduction in Modern India: Context
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks; Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

Together with its co-requisite, the module aims to introduce you to a wide range of sources related to women’s health and reproduction in modern India. The module will engage with sources relating to debates and interventions in British colonial India, through decolonization in 1947, to the period of liberalisation in the late Twentieth Century. Drawing on published sources, digital collections, and archival sources provided by the tutor, the module will consider the perspectives of the multiple national and international actors involved in women’s health and development in modern India. Sources will include documents from the British colonial state, nationalist reformers, the postcolonial government, women’s political and activist groups, and international aid agencies and non-governmental organisations.

Through working with the extensive primary source collections available to this module, you will develop a range of research, analytical, interpretative and communication skills that can be applied in further academic studies or in graduate careers.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Have a detailed knowledge of the different sources available for the study of women’s health and reproduction in modern India, together with a very close specialist knowledge of those sources which the students focus upon in their seminar presentations and written work.
  • 2. Analyse the complex diversity of the sources studied.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Analyse closely original sources and to assess their reliability as historical evidence. Ability to focus on and comprehend complex texts.
  • 4. Understand and deploy relevant historical terminology in a comprehensible manner.
  • 5. Follow the changing causes of and responses to issues regarding women’s health and reproduction in modern India.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 6. Independently and autonomously study and also work within a group, including presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning.
  • 7. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment.
  • 8. Present complex arguments orally.

Syllabus plan

The module will span the history of women’s health and reproduction in India from the Nineteenth Century to the late Twentieth Century. Examples of possible seminar topics include the reform of childbirth in colonial India; debates about eugenics and contraception in the early Twentieth Century; Malthusianism and neo-Malthusianism; Family Planning and Population Control; campaigns against dangerous contraceptive technology; the rise of reproductive health and rights; commercial surrogacy and new reproductive technologies (NRTs).

The introductory sessions for this module will provide an overview of the subject and the context of modern India, and also expose you to some of the sources themselves. The seminars will focus on sources drawn from published and digitised resources, as well as archival sources provided by the tutor, allowing you to develop their knowledge of the subject in conjunction with the close analysis of historiography provided in the co-requisite module, and to develop your skills in source analysis and acquisition. Some of the sources will be presented by individuals, others will be presented by groups; and on other occasions there will be open discussion; you may also be expected to present and discuss specific sources they have found themselves from the module resources. You will be expected to prepare for seminars by reading and evaluating the relevant sources in advance, and will discuss the issues raised by them in the seminars.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities4422 x 2 hour seminars
Guided Independent Study256Reading and preparation for seminars, coursework and presentations

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Seminar discussionOngoing through course1-6, 8Oral from tutor and fellow students

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Portfolio702 assignments totaling 4,000 words1-7Verbal and Written
Presentation3020-30 minutes1-8Verbal and Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
PortfolioPortfolio1-7Referral/Deferral period
PresentationWritten transcript of 20 minute presentation1-8

Re-assessment notes

The re-assessment consists of a 4,000 word portfolio of source work, as in the original assessment, but replaces the individual presentation with a written script that could be delivered in such a presentation and which is the equivalent of 20 minutes of speech.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Aditya Bharadwaj & Peter Glasner, Local Cells, Global Science: The Rise of Embryonic Stem Cell Research in India (Abingdon & New York: Routledge, 2009)


J. Devika, Individuals, Householders, Citizens: Family Planning in Kerala (New Delhi: Zubaan, 2008)


Charu Gupta, Sexuality, Obscenity, Community: Women, Muslims, and the Hindu Public in Colonial India (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2001)


Sarah Hodges, Reproductive Health in India: History, Politics, Controversies (Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 2006)


Sarah Hodges & Mohan Rao (eds.), Public Health and Private Wealth: Stem Cells, Surrogates, and Other Strategic Bodies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016)


Patricia Jeffery & Roger Jeffery, Confronting Saffron Demography: Religion, Fertility, and Women’s Status in India (New Delhi: Three Essays, 2006)


Maneesha Lal, 'The Politics of Gender and Medicine in Colonial India: The Countess of Dufferin's Fund, 1885-1888', Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Vol. 68, No. 1 (1994), pp. 29-66


Amrita Pande, 'Transnational commercial surrogacy in India: gifts for global sisters?', Reproductive BioMedicine Online, Vol. 23 (2011), pp. 618– 625


Mohan Rao, From Population Control to Reproductive Health: Malthusian Arithmetic (New Delhi: Sage, 2004)


Mrinalini Sinha, Specters of Mother India: The Global Restructuring of an Empire (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006)


Rachel Simon-Kumar, Marketing Reproduction: Political Rhetoric and Gender Policy in India (New Delhi: Zubaan, 2006)


Andrea Whittaker & Amy Speier, '“Cycling Overseas”: Care, Commodification, and Stratification in Cross-Border Reproductive Travel', Medical Anthropology, Vol. 29, No. 4 (2010), pp. 363-383

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Centre for Women’s Development Studies:

Sama Resource Group for Women & Health:

South Asia Archive (accessible via the Exeter electronic library):

Rockefeller Foundation 100 Years documents:

United Nations Official Documents System:

USAID Development Experience Clearinghouse:

World Bank elibrary:

Wellcome Images: 

Government of India, Planning Commission documents:

Indicative learning resources - Other resources


Something Like a War (Deepa Dhanraj, 1991)

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Medical History; Gender; India