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Arun Kumar

Assistant Professor in Modern British Imperial, Colonial, and Post-Colonial History, Faculty of Arts



Arun Kumar joined the History Department in September 2019. He is a historian of modern India and a public history intellectual with an interest in social, economic, educational and labour history. His work explores different facets of working-class life histories, including their dreams, education, night-time histories, and childhood. He is currently working on his first book project, which is tentatively titled as The Silent Rebellion: Working-Class Dreams, Education and Welfare Capitalism. Dr. Kumar's research has appeared in journals such as Past & Present, South Asia: Journal of South Asia, Journal of South Asian Development, and his writings have been translated into Ukrainian language.

He frequently writes opinions, columns, and essays for newspapers and magazines such as The Telegraph, The Indian Express, The Wire, Aeon, Scroll. His academic and public engagement work on rural libraries has been featured in Mumbai Mirror, Times of India, Dainik Jagran (Hindi newspaper). Times Higher Education interviewed him in 2021 for his work's impact on community engagement.

After finishing his schooling in a rural school in Uttar Pradesh in North India, Dr. Kumar moved to Delhi University in 2007 to study BA Honors History at Delhi College of Arts & Commerce. He was the president of the History Association and an advisor to the Student Union. For his MA History, Dr. Kumar studied at St. Stephen's College and the Department of History, Delhi University. He was awarded the prestigious Lala Ram Mohan Prize for securing the first rank in the university. He completed his PhD (2013-17) in South Asian history at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies, Goettingen University. His PhD on the educational dreams of Indian workers was part of the Transnational Research Group on 'Poverty and Education in Modern India' which was funded by the Max Weber Foundation.

Kumar's PhD work was awarded the Outstanding Dissertation Prize of the German Historical Institute London for the year 2018.

Before joining Nottingham University, Dr. Kumar worked as a research fellow at the International Institute of Social History Amsterdam, Linnaeus University Sweden, and the Merian-Tagore International Centre for Advanced Studies (ICAS) New Delhi.

Expertise Summary

Geographical Area of Research:

Modern South Asia (India) and the British Empire

Research Interests:

Colonial and Imperial History, Social and Economic History, Capitalism, Global Labour History, Childhood, Education and Knowledge Formation, Agrarian History, Working-Class Aspirations and Dreams, History of the Night, History of Poverty and Inequality

Teaching Summary

I teach the following modules:

HIST 2049, Rule & Resistance in Colonial India

HIST 3104, Global Histories of Labour & Capital: Perspectives from India

HIST 3114, Slavery, Caste & Capitalism: Working Lives in Global History

Research Summary

Arun Kumar's current research sits at the intersection of social, education, and labour history. His current book project, titled The Silent Rebellion: Working Class Dreams, Education and Capitalism… read more

Selected Publications


2019 Bombay Nights: Night Schools and the Dreams of Bombay Workers, Aeon,

2020 Casteism Continues to Thrive among Indians Abroad, with Dr. Amrita Gosh,

2021 A Scandinavian 'Nabob' of the British Empire: The Discovery of a New Colonial Archive, The Wire,

2021. What the Colonial History of Indian Carpentry Tells Us About the State's Role in Nurturing Professions, The Wire with Dr. Amanda Lanzillo,

2021. How Colonial History Contributed to the Socio-Economic Marginalisation of Indian Tailors, The Wire with Dr. Amanda Lanzillo, 11 September.

2021. A World Divided by Time, The Telegraph, 30 September.


2020. What if...Time Zones didn't exist?


2021. Voice of Islam, UK Radio on 'Should India Pakistan partition history be added to history lessons of UK school curriculum?'

Current Research

Arun Kumar's current research sits at the intersection of social, education, and labour history. His current book project, titled The Silent Rebellion: Working Class Dreams, Education and Capitalism explores the lives of the nineteenth and twentieth-century artisans, factory workers, and footloose labourers to understand their labouring and non-labouring world. The book challenges fundamental major theoretical conclusions of modern Indian history that present workers as illiterate beings and study their lives merely in terms of their work identity and manual labour. Kumar proposes that workers who were born as workers did not always die as workers. In their life-cycle, they travelled around, studied, and sought new career opportunities. In doing so, their notions of manual labour and the need for work changed. Similarly, in their day-cycle workers did not just do labour. They dreamed of a non-working identity and a life for themselves and their children. They read books, attended night schools, and wrote prose and poetry. Kumar employs the history of the night-time and childhood as methodological procedures to uncover the non-working lives of manual labourers. He proposes that historians by not exploring the working lives beyond their work time and work-related aspects (strikes, migration) reduce workers to their colonial and elite notions of mere 'working-hands'. In doing so, the book also explores the manual labour aspects of the Indian caste system. It proposes that workers who often came from marginalized social backgrounds did not just rebel against their fixed working identity but also their caste identity which had tied them to perform labour for centuries.

Joseph Stephens' Archive and Contract Capitalism in Imperial World

Dr. Kumar has also been involved in reading the newly discovered papers of Joseph Stephens, the Scandinavian businessman who made a fortune in colonial India working as a railway contractor. Joseph spent nine years in India from 1859 to 1868 and left a wonderful archive of letter correspondence with Great India Peninsular Railway Company, personal diaries, photographs, workers' details, work contracts, and accounts at his residence Huseby Bruk for historians. Kumar is focussing on the language of workers' contracts to write a larger history of the relationship between capitalism and contract. He is also using the archive to make a point about the global imperial history where non-imperial actors such as the residents from the Scandinavian countries were crucial in shaping colonialism.

Past Research

Arun has worked on the art of letter-writing culture among the subaltern groups. He looks at how mobile labouring groups transformed a very elite activity of letter-writing into a mass culture by the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

He has also written on the history of the working-class nights, 'untouchable schools', and industrial schools.

Future Research

Dr Arun Kumar is currently researching community histories of artisans and their usages of the past to articulate an identity. This public-history research is funded with the support of the British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant.

He is also developing a new research project titled 'Ideologies and Practices of Work and Non-Work in South Asia (1900-2000)'. This research will inform and improve our understanding of how work has been constructed, extracted, and resisted on four sites: public construction, factories, government offices, and private firms. The project is timely as demands for shorter workdays, practices of long work hours, and flexible work patterns (postCovid era) become more visible. Project's focus will be on South Asia, but I will engage with scholarships from around the world to produce innovative and original research on how work and non-work have been framed in our daily lives. It will examine key themes that define our sense of work culture and work-life balance, such as the concept of a lazy body, efficiency and fatigue, the rise of an 8-hour workday, boredom, and work discipline. All these themes are missing from South Asian historiography as scholars have not asked these research questions.

Department of History

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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