Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSLS2HS1094

Semester and Year Offered: Winter Semester; first offered in WS 2015.

Course Coordinator and Team: Professor Sanjay Sharma

Email of course coordinator: sanjay[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: None

Aim: This is an elective course that should be of interest to post-graduate students of History, Sociology, Economics, Development Studies and Human Ecology. It explores the history of hunger, famine, epidemics and state intervention during the period of colonial rule in India, from the late 18th century till the middle of the 20th century. The focus of the course is on famines in the modern era and they are to be studied as events and structures in historical and comparative perspectives. Famines will be situated in the broader context of hunger and malnutrition as narrow definitions of famines tend to reduce them to specific causes and years. This will be illustrated with selected case studies from Africa, Europe, China and South Asia.

The course historicises relief and welfare measures undertaken by the colonial state in a comparative perspective. It will trace the evolution of famine relief policies in India with reference to key developments in Britain around themes like state-responsibility for preventing famine and starvation, debates on laissez faire, indolence, vagrancy and crime. Official claims of moral and material improvement of the colony and debates on charity and institutional philanthropy will be examined with reference to canal irrigation, railways and famine codes and how they contributed to the evolution of colonial governmentality. Situations of dearth and starvation often violated the moral economy of the subject population that found expression in food riots and other forms of popular protests. The course will analyse them in their culture-specific context along with other strategies of survival like migration and theft during colonial rule in India.

In recent years, a rich historiography has evolved around issues of disease, medicine and health that were closely linked with hunger, poverty and starvation. By focussing on some select epidemics, the social and cultural circumstances that produced them and the key ideas and institutions that influenced their cure, this course will relate them to notions of public welfare, traditional charity and institutional philanthropy. Questions of health, hygiene, sanitation and their relationship with climate, urban planning and governance continue to remain important in contemporary India where famines may no longer occur but hunger, malnutrition, structured poverty and food security remain major concerns.

Course Outcomes: On successful completion, the course will:

  1. Familiarise students with the history of famine, food and epidemics in the past two centuries.
  2. Enable students to critically engage with the contemporary challenges of food security and malnutrition.
  3. Create social awareness among learners about issues of public health and required policy initiatives for it.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

  1. Hunger and Famine in the Age of Modernity
  2. Conceptualising Hunger and Welfare
  3. Popular Responses to Dearth and Starvation
  4. The Evolution of Famine Relief Policies in Colonial India
  5. Disease, Epidemics and Medicine

Public Health and Welfare

Assessment Details with weights:


Date/period in which Assessment will take place


1st: Written Assignment/Literature review

End February


2nd: Written assignment with group discussion

End March


End-semester examination

End April/Early May



Reading List:

  • Arnold, David, The New Cambridge History of India: III.5, Science, Technology and Medicine in Colonial India (Cambridge: CUP, 2000)
  • Arnold, David. Colonizing the Body: State Medicine and Epidemic Disease in Nineteenth-Century India (University of California Press, 1993 & Delhi, OUP)
  • Arnold, David. Famine: Social Crisis and Historical Change (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1988)
  • Asani Sanket, Bengali film directed by Satyajit Ray (1973) on the Bengal famine of 1943.
  • Bhatia, B.M. Famines in India: A Study in Some Aspects of the Economic History of India with Special Reference to Food Problem 1860-1990, 3rd. revised edition (Delhi, 1993)
  • Davis, Mike. Late Victorian Holocausts: El NiÑo Famines and the Making of the Third World (London, New York: Verso, 2002)
  • Driver, Felix. Power and Pauperism: The Workhouse System, 1834-1884 (Cambridge: CUP, 1993)
  • Dube-Banerjee, Ishita. A History of Modern India (Delhi; CUP, 2014)
  • Grada, Cormác Ó. Famine: A Short History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, paperback, 2010)
  • Guha, Sumit. Health and Population in South Asia: From Earliest Times to the Present (Ranikhet: Permanent Black, first published 2001, paperback 2010)


  • Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Translated by T. Burger (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1989, first published 1962)
  • James Vernon. Hunger: A Modern History (Cambridge: Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 2007)
  • Kumar, Deepak. (ed), Disease and Medicine in India: A Historical Overview (New Delhi: Tulika Books, 2002)
  • Pati, Biswamoy and Mark Harrison (eds.), The Social History of Health and Medicine in Colonial India (London and New York: Routledge, 2008)
  • Prakash, Gyan. Another Reason: Science and the Imagination of Modern India (New Delhi: OUP, 2000)
  • Roy, Tirthankar. The Economic History of India, 1857-1947 (Delhi: OUP, 2011, 3rd edn.)
  • Sarkar, Sumit. Modern Times: India 1880s – 1950s, Environment, Economy, Culture (Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2014)
  • Sen, A. K. Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981)
  • Sharma, Sanjay. Famine, Philanthropy and the ColonialState: North India in the Early Nineteenth Century (New Delhi: OUP, 2001)
  • The Foucault Reader (Pantheon Books, 1984)