Photo of Elizabeth Chatterjee
Elizabeth Chatterjee On Research Leave: 2023-2024 Office: The University of Chicago
Department of History
1126 E. 59th Street, Mailbox 80
Chicago, IL 60637

Social Science Research Building, room 514 – Office
Phone: (773) 702-8018 – Office telephone (773) 702-7550 – Fax Email Interests:

Environmental history; energy; infrastructure; modern India; capitalism in the global South; climate change.

Assistant Professor of Environmental History and the College

University of Oxford, DPhil '15


Elizabeth Chatterjee is a historian of energy and the environment, with a focus on India from 1900 to the present. Her research explores how non-Western energy histories disrupt conventional understandings of capitalist development and the social dynamics of climate change.

Chatterjee’s first book manuscript, Electric Democracy, traces the flows of electricity to provide an energy-centered history of India’s transforming political economy since independence in 1947. It analyzes the critical role of cheap energy in undergirding both economic development and democratization, and how political actors have sought to navigate between these competing processes. The book thus locates struggles for energy justice at the heart of climate history and the Anthropocene. In this and other published works, Chatterjee also examines India’s distinctive mode of state capitalism, showing that its basic structures have remained remarkably resilient even as the country has nominally liberalized since the 1980s.

Chatterjee’s second book-length project will provide a novel perspective on the worldwide environmental and energy crisis of the early 1970s as seen from the oil-importing global South, experimenting with how historians might deploy the multisystemic lens of Earth System Science as a methodological approach. She is exploring the links between this crisis and India’s turn to both authoritarianism and fossil fuels during this decade. At the same time, she continues to work on a wide variety of other topics in energy history, including the early history of solar energy, the history of so-called fuel riots, and the “infrastructural turn” in environmental history.

Chatterjee holds faculty appointments in the Committee on Environment, Geography, and Urbanization (CEGU), the Committee on Southern Asian Studies, and the Committee on International Relations. She is a non-resident Fellow of the Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and a regular public commentator on South Asian affairs.


Recent Course Offerings


  • Energy in World Civilization II

  • Infrastructure Histories

  • Environmental Histories of the Global South

  • How (Not) to Save the World: The History of International Development

  • History of Indian Capitalism

  • Environmental History (graduate colloquium)

Recent Research / Recent Publications

Selected Publications
  • “The Poor Woman’s Energy: Low-Modernist Solar Technologies and International Development, 1878–1966,” Journal of Global History (forthcoming).

  • “Institutional Reflexivity When Facing the Planetary: An Interview,” Environmental Philosophy 19, no. 2 (2022): 203–221,special issue on Dipesh Chakrabarty’s The Climate of History in a Planetary Age (with Neil Brenner, interviewed by Jeremy Bendik-Keymer).

  • New Developmentalism and Its Discontents: State Activism in Modi’s Gujarat and India,” Development and Change 53, no. 1 (2022): 58–83.

  • “State Capitalism in India” (with Rohit Chandra), in Mike Wright, Geoffrey Wood, Alvaro Cuervo-Cazurra, Pei Sun, Ilya Okhmatovskiy, and Anna Grosman (eds.), The Oxford Handbook on State Capitalism and the Firm, pp. 697­­–719. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022.

  • “Numbers Without Experts: The Populist Politics of Quantification,” in Christopher Newfield, Anna Alexandrova, and Stephen John (eds.), The Limits of the Numerical: The Uses and Abuses of Quantification, pp. 23–46. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • The Asian Anthropocene: Electricity and Fossil Developmentalism,” Journal of Asian Studies 79, no. 1 (2020): 3–24.

  • Editor, with Matthew McCartney, Class and Conflict: Revisiting Pranab Bardhan’s Political Economy of India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2020. 

  • A Climate of Scarcity: Electricity in India, 1899–2016,” in John Brewer, Neil Fromer, Fredrik Albritton Jonsson, and Frank Trentmann (eds.), Scarcity in the Modern World: History, Politics, Society and Sustainability, 1800–2075, pp. 211–228. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019.

  • The Politics of Electricity Reform: Evidence from West Bengal, India,” World Development 104 (2018): 128–139.

  • Reinventing State Capitalism in India: A View from the Energy Sector,” Contemporary South Asia 25, no. 1 (2017): 85–100.

  • Feeling Modern: The History of Emotions in Urban South Asia,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 27, no. 4 (2017): 539–557 (with Sneha Krishnan and Megan Robb).