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This fall, SAI welcomed Shubhankita Ojha as our South Asian Studies Fellow for the academic year. She will be mentored by Sven Beckert, Laird Bell Professor of History. Ojha is also a Fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. She received her Ph.D from the Department of History, University of Delhi in 2016. Her research interests include labour, maritime history and urban history. She particularly works on Bombay dock labour and is interested in a comparative study of dock workers globally.

Ojha will deliver a seminar on Monday, Oct. 17: Embracing Waterfronts: Dock Worker Solidarities in International Perspective


Tell us a little about your background and your research focus.

I finished my PhD from Delhi University, and as part of my PhD, I did more of a social history of Bombay dock workers, and I did it within the timeframe of 1860s to 1960s. As part of this, I looked at the dock work, the nature of dock work, recruitment patterns, and the labor regimes that these dockworkers faced. Apart from that, I also looked at the social lives of the dock workers in terms of their formal and informal modes of organization, and living in neighborhoods which have had an impact on dock workers’ lives.

What will you be working on while at Harvard? What resources do you hope to use?

At Harvard, I would like to look at the period beyond 1960s, the period of the container ships, and I would like to see how this particular change in technology impacts dock workers’ lives. Secondly, I would like to look at dock work as an international occupation, drawing comparisons from different ports worldwide.

In terms of resources, one would definitely be the libraries here and the amount of material on different port cities. The second would be the people here at Harvard, the Harvard community – faculty members, graduate students, and other fellows with whom I can discuss my work.

What other academic fields interest you?

Well my work is interdisciplinary in terms, that it looks at history, but also has a sociological angle to it. So I’m definitely interested in probing more of that. I’m increasingly getting interested in urban studies, and looking at the city, and the city as a social space.

What long term impact do you see for your research?

I see my work as encouraging more studies on dock workers, and trying to look at dock work as an integral part of the working class community, because that is what I think has not been looked upon in India; dock workers have not really received the kind of attention they should. Then, understanding the rhythms of work itself. It would definitely promote an interest in how changes in technology and how changes in work rhythms impact work itself, and the lives of workers.