About the project

The John Allan (built 1867), a ‘coolie ship’ used to transport indentured migrants from India to Mauritius

‘Becoming Coolies’ is an AHRC-funded research project, involving scholars at the Universities of Edinburgh and Leeds, which explores nineteenth century South Asian labour migration in and around the Indian Ocean.

Criticised both at the time and since as a ‘new system of slavery’, indenture has been negatively portrayed as the cynical exploitation of a passive Indian labour force. ‘Coolies’, the colonial-era name given to indentured migrants have been presented as victims and dupes, who had little or no control over either the decision to migrate, or the individual or collective outcomes of migration.

By exploring both the diverse experiences of colonial era migration and contemporary discourses around the issue, ‘Becoming Coolies’ interrogates such assumptions.

In understanding more fully the issues surrounding nineteenth century migration, ‘Becoming Coolies’ sheds light on contemporary migration patterns, and the present day culture of the South Asian diaspora.  More broadly it seeks to understand the experience of migration in a wider context.


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