Rachel Sturman

Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies

Teaching this semester

ASNS 2959/HIST 2803. A History of Human Rights

Seminar. Traces the emergence of ideas of universal humanity and human rights, as these took shape in the context of European imperial expansion from the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries. Uses case studies of Europeans and their interlocutors in Latin America, Asia, and Africa to explore the seeming contradiction and actual historical connections between empire and appeals to humanity, as well as to consider the operation of transnational institutions like the United Nations since the mid-twentieth century. Students will engage in original research on a topic of their choice. This course is part of the following field(s) of study: South Asia and Colonial Worlds.

HIST 2345. The British Empire

Examines the history of the British Empire from its origins in the sixteenth century through its collapse in the mid-twentieth century, with a focus on the period after the American Revolutionary War. Explores the forces that drove colonial conquest, the shaping of colonial economies and societies, as well as the ideologies of race, gender, and sexuality that sustained colonial rule. Devotes considerable attention to the creative responses of colonized peoples to imperial rule, the rise of anti-colonial thought, the mobilization of popular anti-colonial movements, and histories of decolonization. Considers critical debates about the Empire's legacies, which continue to the present Note: This course is part of the following field(s) of study: Europe, Colonial Worlds.

Teaching next semester

ASNS 1560/HIST 1440. Merchants, Mughals, Mendicants: India and the Early Modern World

Introductory exploration of the history of the Indian subcontinent and its connections to the broader world in an era shaped by the vibrant movement of people, goods, and ideas across the Indian Ocean, Europe, and Central Asia. Note: This course is part of the following field(s) of study: South Asia. It also fulfills the pre-modern requirement for history majors.

ASNS 2585/HIST 2802. Global Cities, Global Slums of India

Seminar. How have cities in the so-called "developing world" come to take their contemporary forms? How is life in these cities and slums lived? Explores these and other questions through a focus on modern India. Drawing on film, fiction, memoirs, urban planning, and other materials, examines the processes through which cities and slums have taken shape, ongoing efforts to transform them, as well as some of the diverse ways of representing and inhabiting modern urban life.Note: This course is part of the following field(s) of study: Colonial Worlds and South Asia.

Rachel Sturman received her A.B. from the University of Chicago and her Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis. She specializes in the history of modern South Asia, with a focus on colonial and postcolonial India. A historian of modern social and intellectual formations, her first book, The Government of Social Life in Colonial India: Liberalism, Religious Law, and Women’s Rights, examined the intimate and wide-ranging political effects of colonial British property law in India.  Her current book project traces the history of the construction industry in the city of Mumbai during the past century, exploring processes of building and dwelling in India’s most iconic megacity. The courses she offers examine histories of empire, human rights, the politics of development, and media, technology, and commodity cultures, as well as the histories of early modern India and modern India & Pakistan.


  • Ph.D., University of California; Davis, 2001
  • M.A., University of California; Davis, 1993
  • A.B., University of Chicago, 1991


Work in Progress

Book: “Infrastructural Life in the City of Mumbai: A History of the Construction Industry” 

sturman book

Article: “Skill in Construction” [Submitted to Public Culture, special issue on “Subaltern Urbanisms”]


The Government of Social Life in Colonial India: Liberalism, Religious Law and Women’s Rights, Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Journal Forum

“Gender and the Human,” Gender & History 23, 2 (August 2011).


“Indian Indentured Labor and the History of International Rights Regimes.” American Historical Review, 119, 5 (December 2014): 1439-1465. 

Invited contribution: “Marriage & Family in Colonial Hindu Law.” In Hinduism and Law: An Introduction. Cambridge Companion Series. Edited by Timothy Lubin, Donald R. Davis, Jr., & Jayanth K. Krishnan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010: 89-104.

“Marriage and the Morality of Exchange: Defining the Terrain of Law in Late Nineteenth Century Western India.” In Decentering Empire: Britain, India, and the Transcolonial World. Edited by Durba Ghosh and Dane Kennedy. Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 2006: 51–75.

“Property and Attachments: Defining Autonomy and the Claims of Family in Nineteenth-Century Western India.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 47, 3 (July 2005): 611–637.