South Asia, 2013

Research Interests

Modern South Asian history, British empire, legal and constitutional history, postcolonial histories/subaltern studies, Indian princely states, history of Travancore/Kerala, international history, interwar political thought, decolonization, international law, history of federation, and studies on nationalism and sovereignty


Decolonizing the Empire by Treaties: Travancore and the Federalist Alternative to the Nation-State in Late Colonial India


Sarath Pillai is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Chicago. His PhD dissertation studies the rise and fall of federalist ideas in interwar and postwar South Asia (1920s-1940s). It focuses on the federalist imaginings of the liberals and the Indian princely states, and reconstructs the intellectual history of modern South Asia by placing federalism (as opposed to communalism or anticolonial nationalism) as the central rallying point of Indian politics in the last three decades of colonial rule. This project draws upon and advances his long-standing interests in Modern South Asian history, postcolonial studies, British imperial history, legal history, history of political and legal thought, and histories of decolonization, sovereignty, nationalism, self-determination and international law. His exam fields were Subaltern and Postcolonial Histories, British Empire, and International History.

He has been a preceptor in the Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences since September 2019. At MAPSS, he teaches a section of the program’s required interdisciplinary course, Perspectives in Social Science Analysis, and advise student theses on a range of topics. He has also served as an Associate Student Ombudsperson at the University. In the past, he has served as an intern/teaching assistant in a few core sequences in the College of the University of Chicago: for a year in "Self, Culture, Society" (social science core focused on social theory) and for a quarter each in "Colonizations-II" and "Introduction to South Asian Civilizations-II." He has also taught modern South Asian history and European history at Hindu College and Indraprastha College for Women, both under the University of Delhi. He holds a master of studies in law from Yale Law School and a master of arts in history from the University of Delhi.

His research has been supported by American Historical Association, Social Sciences Research Center (SSRC), Committee on Southern Asian Studies (COSAS), Nicholson Center for British Studies, History Department (Kunstader travel grant), Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund for Research at Yale Law School, Humboldt-Yale History Network Travel Grant, and Florence Tan Moeson Fellowship at the Library of Congress.



Archiving Federally, Writing Regionally: Archival Practices and Princely State Histories in Postcolonial India,” Archives and Records, published ahead of print (Feb. 2020).
"Fragmenting the Nation: Divisible Sovereignty and Travancore's Quest for Federal Independence." Law and History Review 34, no. 3 (Aug. 2016): 743–82.

Book reviews

"Harshan Kumarasingham, A Political Legacy of the British Empire: Power and the Parliamentary System in Post-colonial India and Sri Lanka." South Asia Research 35, no. 2 (July 2015): 272–76.
"Caroline Keen, Princely India and the British: Political Development and the Operation of Empire." South Asia Research 34, no. 2 (July 2014): 183–86.
"Princely Modernity: A Mysorean Perspective," Economic and Political Weekly 48, no. 12 (Mar. 23, 2013): 33–36.

Public writing and opinions (selected)

—“Is this the right time for India to debate swapping its parliamentary system for a presidential one?”, September 13, 2020.
—“Kashmir and the Forgotten History of India’s Princely States,” The Diplomat, August 4, 2020.
—“Of Genealogy and Land Deeds: Some Thoughts on Family Histories in Kerala,” Ala: A Kerala Studies Blog, June 30, 2020.
—"Old Archival Laws, New Archives." Economic and Political Weekly 48, no.3 (Jan. 19, 2013): 20–22.
—"Archives and Archival Consciousness: A Postcolonial Predicament." Economic and Political Weekly 47, no. 22 (June 2, 2012): 32–34.