Swati Chawla is a historian of modern South Asia. She will soon finish her Ph.D. in history from the University of Virginia, with a dissertation focused on policies governing migration and citizenship claims in the Himalayan regions of postcolonial South Asia.
She holds B.A., M.A., and M.Phil. degrees in English from the University of Delhi, where she also taught as an Assistant Professor of English before starting her doctoral work. Swati has held fellowships with the USAID, the American Institute of Indian Studies, the Taraknath Das Foundation at Columbia University, the Institute for Humane Studies, the Institute for the Humanities and Global Cultures, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, Koch Foundation, and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
Swati has mentored undergraduate and graduate students across three continents for the past 15 years, in formal university contexts as well as through her work with think tanks and the development sector such as the Royal Commonwealth Society, the Glocal Youth Parliament, and the British Council.
Swati is committed to a learner-based, reflective, and constantly improvising pedagogy, and has received extensive formal training in designing university courses. She has advised faculty across disciplines in designing effective and inclusive syllabi, classroom environments, and assessment tools.
In addition to courses in South Asian history and the Global Studies interdisciplinary major, Swati has taught courses on academic research and writing, building cross-cultural competence, and engaging difference. She was awarded the University of Virginia’s highest teaching honor in 2018.
Swati is trained as a digital humanist, and has incorporated DH tools in her research and teaching. She was one of the developers of Ivanhoe—a digital platform for collaborative textual interpretation, and she also worked as a pedagogy specialist for the University of Virginia’s Digital Humanities Curriculum. She has supervised student projects employing geospatial DH tools such as ArcGIS and Google Earth.
At the JSLH, she will be teaching courses on Tibetans in India, South Asian Buddhisms, the Interdisciplinary Seminar, and digital humanities.
She is currently working on her first book project arising from her dissertation. It studies nationalisms and citizenship claims directed against the Indian state from the Tibetan cultural region from the transition from colonial rule in the 1940s to the recent standoff at Doklam in 2017. The book analyzes assertions of identity and sovereignty that question some of the Indian state’s most cherished nationalistic myths. First, it shows complex cultural and cosmological understandings of the region among the borderland populations, which draw on the overlapping resources of Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam in South Asia. Second, it reveals the unfolding of border-making in newly independent India through a cartographic project of producing authoritative maps, proscribing “erroneous” ones, and publicizing the former in the aid of nation-building. Third, when faced with the ubiquity of customary itinerancy, it shows the modern state’s attempts to settle moving peoples; sedentarization and itinerancy get (respectively) to the core of the state’s and communities’ self-definition. Finally, legal citizenship emerges as the arena in which contestations about identity and loyalty are adjudicated.
Her second book-length project studies Sikkimese nationalism in the decades leading up to Sikkim’s incorporation as the 22nd state of the Indian Union in 1975. It foregrounds conceptions of sovereignty, territoriality, and legitimacy that are positioned equally against two distinctly postcolonial organizations of national life: emancipatory Communism and participatory democracy. The Sikkimese monarchs (Chogyals) derived their lineage and legitimacy from the Dalai Lama of Tibet, which tied them to Lhasa and Thimpu, and the wider Tibetan cultural region. In analyzing their claim that Sikkim was a Buddhist kingdom, the project reads both colonial and postcolonial archives against the grain that privileges the secular state as the telos of nationalist becoming.
Swati’s M.Phil. and Ph.D. work has appeared as chapters in edited volumes, and she has also co-authored an inter-disciplinary working paper under the USAID and IIE’s Research and Innovation Series titled “Increasing the Civic and Political Participation of Women in the Global South: Understanding the Risk of Strong Resistance.” Her op-eds and features regularly appear in Firstpost, The Wire, and The Quint.