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Thu, Mar 07


Waiting on Empire

Waiting on Empire with Arunima Datta

Join NACBS to celebrate the publication of Arunima Datta’s book Waiting on Empire: A History of Indian Travelling Ayahs in Britain. Heather Salter and Priyanka Zylstra will join Arunima Datta for a discussion of the book.

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Waiting on Empire with Arunima Datta
Waiting on Empire with Arunima Datta

Time & Location

Mar 07, 2024, 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM EST

Waiting on Empire

About the event

Join NACBS to celebrate the publication of Arunima Datta’s book Waiting on Empire: A History of Indian Travelling Ayahs in Britain. Heather Salter, Priyanka Zylstra, and Laura Tabili will join Arunima Datta for a discussion of the book.

March 7 

9am PT/ 12pm ET/ 5pm GMT


"The expansion of the British Empire facilitated movement across the globe for both the colonizers and the colonized. Waiting on Empire focuses on a largely forgotten group in this story of movement and migration: South Asian travelling ayahs (servants and nannies), who travelled between India and Britain and often found themselves destitute in Britain as they struggled to find their way home to South Asia.  Delving into the stories of individual ayahs from a wide range of sources, Arunima Datta illuminates their brave struggle to assert their rights, showing how ayahs negotiated their precarious employment conditions, capitalized on social sympathy amongst some sections of the British population, and confronted or collaborated with various British institutions and individuals to demand justice and humane treatment.  In doing so, Datta re-imagines the experience of waiting. Waiting is a recurrent human experience, yet it is often marginalized. It takes a particular form within complex bureaucratized societies in which the marginalized inevitably wait upon those with power over them. Those who wait are often discounted as passive, inactive victims. This book shows that, in spite of their precarious position, the travelling ayahs of the British empire were far from this stereotype."


Arunima Datta is an Assistant Professor at the Department of History, University of North Texas. She is the author of the multiple award-winning book Fleeting Agencies: A Social History of Indian Coolie Women in British Malaya (2021). Her earlier work on the history of travelling ayahs in Britain has also won the Carol Gold Award and honorable mention for the Walter D Love Prize. Her latest book, Waiting on Empire: A History of Indian Travelling Ayahs in Britain was published by Oxford University Press in 2023. She serves as an associate editor of Britain and the World, and as the Associate Review Editor of the American Historical Review. Her works have appeared in several scholarly journals, public history journals and magazines, and on BBC4.

Heather Salter is Professor and Director of World History Programs at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. She received her Ph.D. in History from Duke University in 1998. She is the author of World War One in Southeast Asia: Colonialism and Anticolonialism in an Era of Global Conflict (Cambridge University Press, 2017), Martial Races: The Military, Martial Races, and Masculinity in British Imperial Culture, 1857-1914 (Manchester University Press, 2004), Traditions and Encounters: A Brief Global History (McGraw-Hill, 2006) with Jerry Bentley and Herb Ziegler (now in its fifth edition), and Empires and Colonies in the Modern World (Oxford University Press, 2015) with Trevor Getz. Her next project is called The Shanghai Agents: Global Communism and Anti-Communism Before the Cold War.

Priyanka Zylstra is a PhD student in the Department of History at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research explores how women of South Asian descent in 1970s-80s Britain resisted forms of racialized and gendered state violence, labor exploitation, and domestic violence. Her project reveals how seemingly disparate sites of violence mutually asserted and reinforced productions of race, gender, and belonging. She has presented at several conferences, including the Annual Conference on South Asia and the National Women’s Studies Association Annual Conference.

Laura Tabili is Professor of Modern European History at the University of Arizona. She has authored books and articles about migration to Britain from the colonies and from Europe, interracial and exogamous marriages, racially segmented labour markets, and masculinity, including Global Migrants, Local Cultures 1841-1939: Natives and Newcomers in Provincial England, 1841-1939 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011); and “We Ask for British Justice:” Workers and Racial Difference in Late Imperial Britain (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1994). She is currently at work on a book about colonized seafarers and others in interwar Britain, tentatively entitled, To Get My Living: Colonized Migrants and Their Networks in Interwar Britain.

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