"Intimate Internationalisms": Women and Empire at the University of Oxford, 1891-1947

Attached is my poster from my second summer in the Laidlaw Scholars Program, where I worked with Professor Sneha Krishnan at the University of Oxford on a project tracing networks of women with ties to the British Empire who attended between the 1890s and 1940s.


Elite British universities such as Oxford were at the crux of early twentieth-century internationalism and imperialism. Educating both a generation of British colonial officers and missionaries, and a powerful class of Indian anticolonial leaders, these sites linked colonies and metropole, their influence extending even beyond independence and Partition in 1947. Yet what international histories have left out, in studying the British sojourns of famous male figures such as Gandhi and Nehru, is that a significant number of women with ties to Empire also attended these universities in the 1920s-30s. They were, moreover, hardly homogenous: lower- and middle- as well as upper-class; Indian, Anglo-Indian, metropolitan British; Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Parsi; future Sanskrit academics, anticolonial activists, missionary educators.

“Intimate Internationalisms” draws these women into an international history ‘from below,’ examining how they participated in and shaped internationalism during and after their time at university. Drawing upon original archival research from student registers, correspondences, and files at Saint Anne’s College, University of Oxford—which took many non-elite women who could not otherwise attend—Mrinalini traces the backgrounds of 134 Anglo-Indian, Indian, and missionary women who came from 1891-1940. She does so with an eye towards how international ties were shaped by imperial interests, reflected in the politics of these women’s funding sources: the gendered, racial, and class categorizations made by wealthy donors and colonial officials seeking to produce ‘useful’ subjects. Seizing upon the rare case of a lower-class Anglo-Indian woman attending Oxford on a Government of India Scholarship, Mrinalini argues that the funding sources often disrupted the very colonial categories they presumed. By granting recipients transnational mobility, scholarships and donations brought Indian, Anglo-Indian, and British women together in close quarters—despite rigid segregation in British India—forging unlikely networks of women that challenge colonial ‘order’ and open new possibilities for envisioning internationalism. 

Link to full student database: tinyurl.com/mappingstannes

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