Purba Hossain

Purba Hossain


PhD Researcher and Postgraduate Tutor

West Yorkshire Archives Intern

Indian indentured Labour; 'post-slavery' labour; 19th Century Calcutta; Migration Networks; Coolies; Urban spaces; Colonial city; Print culture; Global debates on indenture and ‘free labour’

Academic Background:

Before beginning my research at Leeds, I studied at Presidency University (Kolkata, India), where I developed an academic interest and specialised training in South Asian History. I graduated with a first-class BA (Hons) in 2014 and MA in History with Distinction in 2016. My MA dissertation (supervised by Dr. Soumen Mukherjee) focused on the resistance to indentured labour migrations in Calcutta, and the movement that grew in the city petitioning for its abolition. During the course of postgraduate studies, I worked as Research Assistant in two research projects on colonial cemeteries and colonial networks of cultural encounter: the Dutch Cemetery in Bengal and the UKIERI Narratives of Migration: Scots in
Bengal. As part of a research team, I explored the lives of those buried in the Dutch cemetery of Chinsurah (West Bengal, India) and the Scottish Cemetery at Kolkata (India) respectively, and worked towards creating a digital database with biographical, architectural, demographic, literary and historical metadata.

Doctoral Research: 

Supervised by Prof. Andrea Major and Prof. William Gould, and generously funded by the School of History and IMS PhD Scholarship, this research project explores the role of Calcutta in mid-nineteenth century global indentured labour networks, which extended from India to British plantation colonies. Indentured migration has been a subject of much scholarly interest, but most works tend to be rooted in the plantation colonies the migrants immigrated to, rather than the colonial capital they emigrated from. My research explores this gap to locate Calcutta within the global ‘web’ of indenture, from where labourers were exported to plantation colonies and where major decisions were taken regarding the regulation of the indentured trade. It emphasises in particular the role of an active and engaging discursive space in the city, which operated within physical and intellectual limits of the colonial framework (such as public
associations, meetings, enquiry commissions, and the local print media). It also explores these discourses in global debates on indentureship, ‘free labour’ and emigration. Ultimately, this project intends to highlight the lasting impact of the mid-nineteenth century debates on colonial emigration policies and explore the discursive frameworks they developed for public discussions on migrant and plantation labour. It introduces 'post-slavery' as a theoretical framework for analysing labour and (British) Empire.

Wider Research Interests:

My wider research interests include colonial cities and societies and their position within imperial networks, as well as print culture and public interaction in urban spaces. I am especially interested in the relation between colonial and metropolitan spheres of influence, and the networks of circulation and discussion that are developed in the process. The research projects mentioned here gave me further the opportunity to explore my interest in overseas networks and cultural encounter.

Research Projects and Internships:

West Yorkshire Archives Intern for the School of History, University of Leeds (November 2018-October 2019)

Research Assistant and Team Leader in a collaborative project between Presidency University, Kolkata and the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, titled “The Narratives of Migration—Scotland and India”, part of the UK-India Research Initiative (UKIERI), funded by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the British Council (December 2014-October 2015)

Research Assistant in a project titled “The Dutch Cemetery in Bengal”, under the School of Digital Humanities, Presidency University, Kolkata, funded by the Embassy of the Netherlands in India (March-November 2014)


Purba Hossain and Sudipto Mitra, ‘Protests in Print: Resistance against Indian Indentured Labour in Nineteenth Century Bengal’ in Aditi Chandra and Vinita Chandra edited The Nation and its Margins: Rethinking Community (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019) (forthcoming)

‘Protests at the Colonial Capital: Calcutta and the Global Debates on Indenture, 1836–42’, South Asian Studies, 33:1 (2017), 37–51

“The Nation and its Limits: Women’s Question in 19th Century Bengal and the Nationalist ‘Resolution’”, Presidency Historical Review 1:1 (March 2015), 94-108

Academic Presentations:

‘All this for Sugar? : The ‘Post-Slavery’ Framework of Labour', Arts, Humanities & Cultures (AHC) Poster Conference, University of Leeds, November 13, 2018

‘John Gladstone and the Framework of Freedom: Indian Indentured Labour in Post-Abolition Empire’, Institute of Historical Research, London, October 22, 2018

‘Crossing the Kala Pani: Indentured Networks and the Calcutta Public in the Long 1830s’, at the European Society for the History of Science Biennial Conference (in conjunction with the British Society for the History of Science) ‘Unity and Disunity’ (Institute of Education, London, September 14-17, 2018

‘‘More Allied to Monkeys than to Men’: Race, Ethnography, and the Indentured Labour Migrant’, at the White Rose South Asia Network Postgraduate Symposium ‘South Asian Studies: Voices through History (University of Sheffield, June 11-12, 2018)

‘Indentured Servitude and ‘Free Labour’ Debates in the Calcutta Public Sphere, 1836-42’, at the British Association for South Asian Studies Annual Conference (University of Exeter, April 18-20, 2018)

‘Coolie Narratives: Indentured Labour Migration and the ‘Coolie’ in Fiction’, at the Colonial/Postcolonial New Researchers’ Workshop (Institute of Historical Research, London, February 5, 2018)

Purba Hossain and Sudipto Mitra, ‘The Calcutta Coolies: Mapping Resistance against Indentured Labour’, at the 8th Conference on East-West Intercultural Relations: ‘Reconsidering Cultural Ideologies and Identities in India and Beyond’ (Ramjas College, New Delhi, March 2016)

‘Resisting Indenture: Reactions to the Coolie Question in Mid-Nineteenth Century Calcutta’, at the Twelfth International Conference of History and Heritage, (Itihas Academy, Dhaka, February 18, 2016)

Souvik Mukherjee, Purba Hossain and others, ‘The Scottish in Bengal: Digitally Archiving a Cemetery’, at the International Workshop on Digitisation and Archiving organised by the Sir Ratan Tata Fund for Collaborative Project between the School of Cultural Texts and Records, Jadavpur University and the British Library, UK, on Digitisation of South Asian Archival Resources with the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP) (Jadavpur University, August 19-21, 2015)

Teaching and Academic Mentorship:

In my capacity as Postgraduate Tutor in the School of History at Leeds, I have taught:

- Level-II Module ‘Colonial Encounters: Life and Death in British India, 1690-1871’ (Autumn 2018)

- Level-I European survey module ‘The Modern World’ (Spring 2019)

- Level-I ‘Primary Sources for the Historian: Labour, Migration and Empire: The Indian Indentured Trade, c.1834-1920’ (Spring 2018)

- Level-I Module on historiography of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (Autumn 2017)

I also designed my own strand of the Primary Sources Module based on my doctoral research.

I was a Level-3 undergraduate Dissertation Mentor in the School in 2017-18 and Leeds Excellence in the Arts Programme (LEAP) Mentor for Level-III students in 2018-19.

Academic Memberships

2018-19        Member of the British Society for the History of Science

2017-18        Member of the British Association for South Asian Studies

2014-2016    Founder-Member and Executive Editor, Presidency Historical Review, Journal of the Department of History, Presidency University, Kolkata. Responsibilities included editing, executive decision-making, publication and distribution (both in print and online)

Academic Responsibities

2018-19        Co-organiser and convenor of the ‘Global History Reading Group’, School of History, University of Leeds

2018             Co-organiser of the White Rose South Asia Network Postgraduate Conference, University of Sheffield, June 

2014             Co-organiser of seminar session titled ‘Sumit Sarkar, Tanika Sarkar and Dipesh Chakrabarty in Conversation with Mridu Rai’ at Presidency University, Kolkata. December 15

As part of the postgraduate cohort at Presidency University Department of History, I co-organised and helped organise formal conferences as well as seminar sessions. This included the ‘Languages of Violence, Languages of Justice’ Conference (December 18-19, 2014), a seminar and discussion session as part of the Presidency Historical Review journal and website launch (December 20, 2014), and the ‘Theory for Historians’ seminar series (February-March 2015).

Language Skills:

I am fluent in Bengali and English, proficient in Hindi and Spanish, and fairly proficient in German.

Research interests

Indian indentured Labour; 'post-slavery' labour; 19th Century Calcutta; Migration Networks; Coolies; Urban spaces; Colonial city; Print culture; Global debates on indenture and ‘free labour’


  • BA (Hons) in 2014. Graduated top of class
  • MA (with Distinction) in 2016. Graduated top of class