About

This Research Grants Council of Hong Kong funded research project, “Transnational Identities of the Global South Asian Diaspora in Australia, Canada, Aotearoa New Zealand, and South Africa, 1900s-1940s,” will address a crucial issue in the modern world: How is identity formed by different populations living in communities distant from their original homelands? It will answer this question by analysing and comparing the historical forces that affected identity-formation of South Asian migrants in four diasporic communities under British rule.  It will pose three main research questions: 1. Was the rhetoric about the equality of all British subjects adopted by South Asian migrants in the British Empire’s self-governing Dominions (Australia, Canada, Aoteatoa New Zealand, and South Africa) in the first half of the twentieth century? Building on the Principal Investigator’s previous research (Smith and Mann, 2016) and related scholarship on Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, it will compare the experiences and the rhetoric in the four countries. 2. Did the experience of living in predominantly White countries encourage migrants from the Punjab and other regions in South Asia to adopt a common pan-South Asian identity? 3. To what extent did inter-ethnic and inter-faith relations in South Asia impact the South Asian diaspora in the self-governing British Dominions? The Principal Investigator’s previous comparative and transnational research has proven the efficacy of comparing national case studies in diasporic communities. If the rhetoric about the equality of all British subjects is demonstrated by the research, this would be highly significant, as it would illustrate that “Britishness” or a “Britannic Nationalism’ was not only an ethnic phenomenon, but also a civic one. Exploring the diversity of the South Asian diaspora, in terms of ethnicity, culture, and religion, will also be extremely enlightening, as the community was not a single monolithic bloc: even within the Punjabi community there were Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims practicing different faiths. To answer these three questions, archival research into letters, newspapers, and other publications will be undertaken in the libraries holding materials relating to the four communities. The results of this research will be disseminated in the form of conference and seminar presentations, the publication of several articles and a monograph, and will engage the general public by establishing a website and a blog, giving those interested the opportunity to follow the progress of the research.

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