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Kalyani Ramnath

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Assistant Professor
Assistant Professor (by courtesy) at School of Law

I am a historian of modern South Asia, interested in researching and teaching legal history, histories of migration and displacement, transnational and global history, and questions of archival method. 

My first book, Boats in a Storm: Law, Migration, and Decolonization in South and Southeast Asia 1942 - 1962 was published with Stanford University Press in August 2023. Boats in a Storm is set against the background of postwar South and Southeast Asia. For more than century before World War II, traders, merchants, financiers, and laborers steadily moved between places on the Indian Ocean, trading goods, supplying credit, and seeking work. This all changed with the war and as India, Burma, Ceylon, and Malaya wrested independence from the British empire. Set against the tumult of the postwar period,Boats in a Storm centers on the legal struggles of migrants to retain their traditional rhythms and patterns of life, illustrating how they experienced citizenship and decolonization. Even as nascent citizenship regimes and divergent political trajectories of decolonization papered over migrations between South and Southeast Asia, migrants continued to recount cross-border histories in encounters with the law. These accounts, often obscured by national and international political developments, unsettle the notion that static national identities and loyalties had emerged, fully formed and unblemished by migrant pasts, in the aftermath of empires.

Drawing on archival research conducted in India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, London, and Singapore, Boats in a Storm narrates how former migrants battled legal requirements to revive prewar circulations of credit, capital, and labor, in a postwar context of rising ethno-nationalisms that accused migrants of stealing jobs and hoarding land. Ultimately, the book shows how decolonization was marked not only by shipwrecked empires and nation-states assembled and ordered from the debris of imperial collapse, but also by these forgotten stories of wartime displacements, their unintended consequences, and long afterlives.

I received my Ph.D. in history from Princeton University in 2018, and was a Prize Fellow in Economics, History, and Politics at the Center for History and Economics at Harvard University from 2018 - 2021. I also hold a bachelor's degree in arts and law (B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) (JD equivalent) from the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) and a master's degree in law (LL.M.) from the Yale Law School. 



2020 InterAsia Academy: Integration and Disintegration, SSRC

2019 Wallace Johnson Program for First Book Authors, ASLH

2017 Hurst Institute for Legal History, University of Wisconsin-Madison                        

2017 Hart Fellowship for Tamil Studies, UC Berkeley                                                          

2017 Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies Graduate Fellow                             

2016 Bernadotte Schmitt Grant, American Historical Association                                                    

2016 Fellowship of Woodrow Wilson Scholars, Princeton University                                               

2014 American Institute for Sri Lankan Studies Dissertation Planning Grant                                    

2013 Arthur Liman Summer Fellowship in Public Interest Law

Selected Publications:

2022 Making Maritime Boundaries in the Bay of Bengal, 40 (3) Law and History Review (2022) [Cambridge Journals]

2022 ‘Law and the Political Imaginary in Mid-Twentieth Century Southern India’, Political Imaginaries in Twentieth-Century India (Mrinalini Sinha and Manu Goswami eds., Bloomsbury UK) (Bloomsbury UK)

2021 Histories of Indian Citizenship in the Age of Decolonization, Itinerario: Journal of Imperial and Global Interactions [Cambridge Journals]

2020 ‘Intertwined Itineraries: Debt, Decolonization, International Law in Post-World War II South Asia’, 38 (1) Law and History Review (2020) [Cambridge Journals]

2016 ADM Jabalpur’s Antecedents: Political Emergencies, Civil Liberties and Arguments from Colonial Continuities in India, 31 (2) American University International Law Review (2016) [AUILR]

2013 ‘The Colonial Difference between Law and Fact: Notes on the Criminal Jury in India’, 50 (3) Indian Social and Economic History Review (2013) [Sage Publications]

2012 ‘We The People, Seamless Webs and Social Revolutions: Imagination and Expectation in the Constituent Assembly Debates of India’, 32(1) South Asia Research (2012) (reprinted in The Constituent Assembly Reader: Deliberations on Democracy (Udit Bhatia ed., Routledge Publishing, 2018) [Sage Publications]

2011 ‘Justice in her Infinite Variety’ (book review) Mithi Mukherjee, ‘India in the Shadows of Empire’ 8 Socio-Legal Review (2011)

2011 ‘Of Limited Suits and Limitless Legalities: Interpreting Legal Procedure in the Ayodhya Judgment’, 5 NUALS Law Journal (2011). [HeinOnline]

2011 ‘The Runaway Judgment: Law-as-Literature, Courtcraft and Constitutional Visions’, 3 Journal of Indian Law and Society (2011) [JILS]


Ph.D., Princeton University (2018)

M.A., Princeton University (2014)

LL.M. Yale Law School (2010)

B.A., LL.B. (Hons.), National Law School of India University (2009)

Events featuring Kalyani Ramnath
101 LeConte Hall

This installment of the Department of History’s undergraduate lecture series features Dr. Kalyani Ramnath. Professor Ramnath joined the history faculty this year, so now you can look forward to her courses on the history modern South Asia, legal history, and law and empire. In addition to her PhD in history, Ramnath holds a B.A.,LL.B. (Hons.) (J.D. equivalent)…

314 North Tower, 3rd Floor, Zell Miller Learning Center

UGA faculty are invited to join us for a book signing, reception, and celebration of Boats in a Storm: Law, Migration, and Decolonization in South and Southeast Asia, 1942–1962 (August 2023, Stanford University Press) by Dr. Kalyani Ramnath of the Department of History.

"For more than century before World War II, traders, merchants, financiers, and…

Hirsch Hall, Classroom H (355)

Dr. Ramnath, a University of Georgia Assistant Professor of History and lawyer who has a courtesy appointment at the Law School, will discuss her new book, Boats in a Storm: Law, Migration, and Decolonization in South and Southeast Asia, 1942-1962 (Stanford UP 2023).

Joining her in conversation…

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