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Photo of Professor Nandini Chatterjee

Professor Nandini Chatterjee

Professor of South Asian History


01392 725067

I am a historian of South Asia. I work on law and cultural exchanges in the British and Mughal empires - with particular attention to law, religion and family. My first book was on the shaping on the minority religious community of Indian Christians, through legal, political, racial and theological contests over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. My second book is a rare micro-history of a landed lineage and their negotiation of the  laws of the Mughal empire.

I then moved on to looking at law in the broader context of the British Empire, and especially at the role of  the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, erstwhile final court of appeal of the British empire, and a hub of legal, social and cultural interactions with empire-wide implications. From this research I grew interested in the role and place of Islamic law in the British Empire - including Anglo-Muhammadan law, eminent Muslim judges, and key cases involving either or both. In collaboration with Dr Charlotte Smith of Reading University, I have created an online catalogue of historic Privy Council papers.

Subsequently, my  interests have moved further back in time, and I have taken my curiosity about law back to the early modern Islamic and Persian-writing world. I am currently directing an international and collaborative five-year ERC-funded project on Persian and bi-lingual legal documents from India, Iran and the northern Indian Ocean. The project is called Forms of Law in the early modern Persianate World, 17th-19th centuries. As part of this project, my colleagues and I are producing a free online repository of legal documents from India and the Indian Ocean, written in Persian and various Indian languages. This is an innovative digital humanities project that I hope will produce a useful teaching and research tool, besides acknowledging and encouraging the work of family historians in South Asia.

I am director of the Exeter Centre for South Asia and in the year 2020-21, joint chair of the History Decolonising Working Group at Exeter. Here are some blog posts in relation to our ongoing work and conversations. 

Research interests

I am currently working on a ERC Starting Grant-funded project called "Forms of Law in the Early Moderm Persianate World, 17th-19th centuries.

This is project about the writing of legal documents in the Persian language, which was common practice in a geographically vast and ethnically diverse cultural zone stretching from present-day Bangladesh up Yemen and east Africa. In many cases, Persian was combined with local vernaculars, and as such, this project is both the study of law in practice as well as multi-lingualism in operation. 

Full details may be found on the project web-pages. I welcome communication from individuals with associated interests.

Research collaborations

Philipps-Universität Marburg, Germany is project partner in the ERC-funded project, Forms of Law in the Early Modern Persianate World, 17th-19th centuries, of which I am the PI. Prof Christoph Werner, Centre for Near and Middle Eastern Studies, is the key academic leading Marburg's contribution to this project. The project's activitis will include, besides the usual research and publication work, collaboration between Marburg and Exeter on a major Digital Humanities proect, centred around the website Asnad

Dr Fahad Bishara of the Department of History, University of Virginia, is part of the project team of Forms of Law in the Early Modern Persianate World, 17th-19th centuries.

Professor Chander Shekhar, Department of Persian, Delhi University, is part of the project team of Forms of Law in the Early Modern Persianate World, 17th-19th centuries.

Research supervision

I am open to discussing research proposals on any relevant subject within my research expertise. I am especially happy to consider working with candidates with interests in Mughal history, Indo-Islamic history more broadly, and the history of British colonial rule in South Asia. I particularly welcome candidates from the countries of South Asia to get in touch with me.

Research students

First supervisor

Prashant, "Gender and Law in the eighteenth-century Maratha Empire."

Second supervisor

Sonia Wigh, "The Body of Words: A Social History of Sex and the Body in Medieval India." First supervisor: Prof. Sarah Toulalan

Daniel Phillips, "The Proximity of Purpose in Colonial Zoological Gardens: An Entangled History of Empire and the Establishment of the Calcutta Zoological Gardens, 1867-1908' First supervisor: Dr Gajendra Singh

Lewis Wade, "Maritime Trade and State Regulationn: Maritime Averages in France during the Seventeenth Century." First supervisor: Prof. Maria Fusaro

External impact and engagement

In 2013-14, I led a panel of scholars for curating a temporary public exhibition on empire, law and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, for the UK Supreme Court. The exhibition was hosted in the UK Supreme Court July-September 2014, and was visited by approximately 26,000 people. The exhibition was associated with a number of lectures and other public-oriented actvities. See: A Court at the Crossroads of Empire.

Contribution to discipline

Member, AHRC Peer Review College

Member, Advisory Board, The English Historical Review


I studied in universities in India, The Netherlands and the UK. I took my first degree in History from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India; then I studied in what I still consider to be the best university in the world: Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. My PhD in history was from Cambridge, with a brief interlude at the University of Amsterdam, where I tried to become an anthropologist, and failed.