Gunnel Cederlöf

Gunnel Cederlöf

Department of Cultural Sciences Faculty of Arts and Humanities
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Professor of History at the Department of Cultural Sciences and the Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies



My research combines environmental history, legal history, and colonial and British imperial history. It connects global and local history, and has a particular focus on early modern and modern India.

I hold a PhD (history) from Uppsala University, published as Bonds Lost: Subordination, Conflict and Mobilisation in Rural South India c. 1900-1970 (Manohar 1997, 2020) on bonded agrarian labour and the social history of the transformed South Indian agrarian economy. Across the years, my work has enquired relations between nature, political power, socio-economic change, and law, with an emphasis on people who are the most exposed to societal transformations. A larger South Indian study was published as Landscapes and the Law: Environmental Politics, Regional Histories, and Contests over Nature (Permanent Black 2008, Oxford University Press 2019). Ecological Nationalisms: Nature, Livelihoods and Identities in South Asia (Washington UP & Permanent Black 2005, with K. Sivaramakrishnan) advanced questions of manifestations in nature of identity and nation.

I presently research how political power, subjecthood, and polity formed when the British Empire grew in Asia. It covers issues of commerce, law, land and property, and the impact of monsoons and disasters. Founding an Empire on India's North-eastern Frontiers, 1790-1840: Climate, Commerce, Polity (Oxford UP 2014) combine climate and legal history for the study of the southwestern branch of the Silk Road network. In the edited volume Subjects, Citizens and Law: Colonial and Independent India (Routledge 2016, with Das Gupta) discuss the practice of legal rights from early colonial times to the present.


Gunnel Cederlöf heads two research projects.

The India-China Corridor

This project studies the formation of polities in the region that connects India and China, conceptualised as the India-China Corridor, during the formation of the British Empire in Asia. It focuses on two related aspects: the role of natural conditions and the impact of human mobility in the geopolitically sensitive and highly volatile Corridor. It takes a long-term view across the intermediate and transformative century 1820-1920 when the British and Chinese empires expanded their influence in this region. Through historical enquiry, the project investigates the larger region as characterised by mobility. It poses urgent questions about the causes of intra-regional migration, the formation of rights, and socio-ecological conditions.

The project is funded by the Swedish Research Council during 2016-19. Collaborating partners: Prof. Willem van Schendel, Amsterdam University, Dr Mandy Sadan, School of Oriental and African Studies, London, Prof. Arupjyoti Saikia, Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, Assam, och Prof. Dan Smyer Yu, direktor för Center for Trans-Himalayan Studies, Yunnan Minzu University, Kunming, Yunnan.

Conversations in Deep-Time
Read the column in the web journal Northeast Review


Huseby i världen

The Linnaues University Library archives holds a large collection of the Huseby Iron Estate. New historical documents were recently found in the attic of the manor, whereby the Joseph Stephens collection could be added to the Estate archives.

Joseph Stephens became the owner of the estate in the 1860s - a period of economic recession. His investment originated in India, where he worked as a sub-contractor for railway construction in post-rebellion British India. On leaving India, he brought all the documentation of his work with him to the estate - not to be found again until 2006.

Research in this unique historical material revises our knowledge of 19th century Småland and ties together the history of Småland County, southern Scandinavia, India, and the British Empire.

The project is funded by the Kamprad Family Foundation during 2017-19. It is carried out in collaboration between the Linnaeus University and the Huseby Estate (Huseby Bruk AB).


Publications in brief




Visiting Fellow at SCAS, Swedish Collegium for Advanced Studies (2000), Oxford University (2000-01), Jawaharlal Nehru University (2010) and Calcutta University (across 2004-13), and Director of the Forum for Advanced Studies in Arts, Languages, and Theology at Uppsala University (2006-08), and Vice Chair of STINT, the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and higher Education (2013-19).

Member of the Council for the European Association for South Asian Studies (EASAS).

Working member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities.


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Conference paper (Other academic)

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Chapter in book (Other academic)

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Article in journal (Other (popular science, discussion, etc.))

Chapter in book (Other (popular science, discussion, etc.))