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Vikram Visana


Vikram Visana

Fellow at the Dahlem Humanities Center

November 2017 – August 2018

‘Regenerating the Tribal Soul’: Colonial Thought and Indirect Rule in the Sudan, 1899-1956 

This project investigates the colonial thought underpinning British governance of the Sudan from 1899 to 1956. The research questions guiding this work ask whether British 'indirect rule', or government through tribal units led by chiefs, was simply government on the cheap, designed to lock Africans into newly imagined tribal units, or was it shaped by wider currents of late nineteenth-century liberal thought concerned with how to manage progress? If the latter, what are the implications for our understanding of the political structures and political identities which emerged to shape post-colonial African governance? Reconstructing colonial thought will reveal how globally circulating ideas associated with British Idealism, Positivism, Fabianism and colonial anthropology were adapted and re-articulated by British officials in the Sudan. In so doing, this research will show how modern African political identities and structures were imagined by the British in order to promote 'modern' development along 'authentically' African lines. It is hoped that the outputs from this project will allow historians, political scientists and economists alike to re-conceptualise 'traditional' institutions like tribe and chiefship as integral to 'modern' ideas of 'progress'.

Vikram Visana received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Cambridge with a dissertation on ‘Liberalism, Imperial Citizenship, and Indian Self-Government in the Political Thought of Dadabhai Naoroji, 1840-1917’ supervised by the late Chris Bayly. He has taught imperial, global and intellectual history at the University of Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh.


‘Vernacular Liberalism, Capitalism, and Anti-Imperialism in the Political Thought of Dadabhai Naoroji’, Historical Journal 59, 3 (2016), 775-797.

Contact: vikram.visana@fu-berlin.de