Reproducing Empire, Birthing the Nation: Women's Health and Reproduction in Modern India: Context (HIH3018)

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: Sources
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks; Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

From debates about child marriage in British colonial India, to population control and commercial surrogacy in post-independence India, women’s bodies have been the object of legislation, medical intervention, experimentation, and commercial speculation. This module aims to introduce you to the interdisciplinary scholarship surrounding women’s health and reproduction in modern India, drawing on anthropology, sociology, political science and development studies as well as historiography. The module will also introduce you to the broader historical, political, and social contexts in which these reproductive reform efforts were situated. Key issues for consideration include the context of British colonial rule, decolonization and nation-building, and the relationship between reproduction and globalisation.


Through engaging with the complex interdisciplinary scholarship and controversies over different aspects of women’s health and reproduction in modern India, the module aims to develop research, analytical, interpretative and communication skills that can be applied in further academic studies or in graduate careers.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Evaluate the different complex themes in the study of women’s health and reproduction in modern India
  • 2. Make close specialist evaluation of the key developments within the period, developed through independent study and seminar work.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Analyse the key developments within the history of women’s health and reproduction in modern India
  • 4. Focus on and comprehend complex issues.
  • 5. Understand and deploy relevant historical terminology in a comprehensible manner.
  • 6. Follow the changing causes of and responses to issues regarding women’s health and reproduction in modern India.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Independently and autonomously study and also work within a group, including presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning
  • 8. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment
  • 9. 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).


Some of you will have previously studied the history of modern India and/or the history of reproduction, while others will not. The introductory sessions for this module will therefore provide broad overviews of the history of modern India and the history of reproduction, into which framework you can place your subsequent work. The co-requisite module will also introduce you to some of the sources themselves. You will be expected to prepare for seminars by reading and evaluating the respective 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 2hour 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 course1-7, 9Verbal 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
Essay253,000 words1-8Verbal and Written
Essay253,000 words1-8Verbal and Written
Unseen exam502 questions in 2 hours1-8Verbal and Written

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Two essaysTwo essays1-8Referral/Deferral period
Unseen exam Unseen exam1-8Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

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