PhD'17 (South Asian history) University of Chicago



Research Interests

History of South Asia, legal history, Islamic law, British Empire, comparative colonialisms, Islam in South Asia, Indian Ocean circulations, print culture, book history 


Between Community and Qānūn: Documenting Islamic Legal Practice in Nineteenth-Century British India


Elizabeth Lhost earned a PhD in South Asian history from the Departments of History and South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago in June 2017. Focusing on the legal history of British rule in India, her dissertation, "Between Community and Qānūn: Documenting Islamic Legal Practice in Nineteenth-Century British India," traced the origins of Islamic legal modernism by analyzing the mundane practices of paperwork and bureaucratic routines adopted by qāẓīs (Muslim judges) and muftīs (jurisconsults, writers of legal opinions or fatwas) in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her work draws upon previously underutilized vernacular sources, including qazi notebooks and registers, published and unpublished fatwas, and legal documents in Persian and Urdu to highlight the role of writing and documentation in the everyday practice of law. Drawing attention to the social and material history of legal practice across the South Asian subcontinent, Elizabeth's work surveys the modes paperwork and documentary routines that propelled the colonial legal system—and animated its opponents—and uses paperwork to explain how indigenous legal actors modernized their legal practice and contributed to the development of legal pluralism in postcolonial South Asia.

Prior to joining the University of Chicago, Elizabeth received a BA in English literature and cognitive science from Northwestern University and an MA in languages and cultures of Asia from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her work has been supported by the Fulbright student program, the Social Science Research Council, the American Institute of Pakistan Studies, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Mellon Foundation. In August 2017, Elizabeth joined the Center for the Humanities at UW–Madison with a two-year appointment as a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow where she will teach courses in the undergraduate legal-studies program.


Awarded 2016–17 Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship