Between Colonialism and Diaspora

Sikh Cultural Formations in an Imperial World

Between Colonialism and Diaspora

Book Pages: 248 Illustrations: 4 b&w photographs, 1 map Published: August 2006

Author: Tony Ballantyne

Asian Studies > South Asia, History > World History, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Bringing South Asian and British imperial history together with recent scholarship on transnationalism and postcolonialism, Tony Ballantyne offers a bold reevaluation of constructions of Sikh identity from the late eighteenth century through the early twenty-first. Ballantyne considers Sikh communities and experiences in Punjab, the rest of South Asia, the United Kingdom, and other parts of the world. He charts the shifting, complex, and frequently competing visions of Sikh identity that have been produced in response to the momentous social changes wrought by colonialism and diaspora. In the process, he argues that Sikh studies must expand its scope to take into account not only how Sikhism is figured in religious and political texts but also on the battlefields of Asia and Europe, in the streets of Singapore and Southall, and in the nightclubs of New Delhi and Newcastle.

Constructing an expansive historical archive, Ballantyne draws on film, sculpture, fiction, and Web sites, as well as private papers, government records, journalism, and travel narratives. He proceeds from a critique of recent historiography on the development of Sikhism to an analysis of how Sikh identity changed over the course of the long nineteenth century. Ballantyne goes on to offer a reading of the contested interpretations of the life of Dalip Singh, the last Maharaja of Punjab. He concludes with an exploration of bhangra, a traditional form of Punjabi dance that diasporic artists have transformed into a globally popular music style. Much of bhangra’s recent evolution stems from encounters of the Sikh and Afro-Caribbean communities, particularly in the United Kingdom. Ballantyne contends that such cross-cultural encounters are central in defining Sikh identity both in Punjab and the diaspora.


“[A]n important addition to the growing literature on the construction of Sikh identity during the past two centuries. Unlike many writers, Ballantyne does not confine his analysis to either the colonial or the contemporary era but rather sees common threads running between them. . . . The result is a broader and more innovative understanding of Sikh cultural formations than is present in many standard accounts. . . . [A] bold and lively work.” — Ian Talbot, American Historical Review

“[T]he literature review and research agenda of Between Colonialism and Diaspora make it required reading for scholars whose work touches on any question of Sikh or Punjabi history, society, and culture in any historical period or geographical location. Scholars outside these fields who are interested in identity formation, particularly in England, will find many useful insights. Historians interested in the methodological integration of documentary evidence with other types of source, including music, dance, clothing, and the visual arts will find Ballantyne’s book a fine example.” — Brian Caton, Canadian Journal of History

“[T]his is an extremely adept treatment of a wide range of extant topics in Sikh studies, which will surely provoke further novel research into the Sikh diaspora. . . . Moreover, it might have more individuals scouring the record shops of Southall and tapping their feet to the music of Alaap and various other progenitors to Punjabi MC’s Mundian To Bach Ke, and perhaps will thereby confirm ‘the universal appeal of the dhol.’ If so, he has scored yet another success.” — Gerard McCann, Indian Economic and Social History Review

“Ballantyne puts great emphasis on religion and popular culture . . . . This is one of the better postmodernist studies, as it is also based on solid historical knowledge.” — R. D. Long, Choice

“Ballantyne’s commitment to post-colonial theory and careful attention to sources make this a valuable contribution to the fields of Sikh Studies, colonial studies, modern history, and historical anthropology. Its breadth and general readability will make it a valuable volume for teaching as well.” — Anne Murphy, Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

“Ballantyne’s study begins to plot these new avenues down which those of us who study the Sikhs and Sikhism will tread and as such should be on the shelf of any scholar interested in Sikh Studies, the development of diasporas, modern Indian and imperial history. It is a book to be read by any of us concerned with the continuing convergence of culture and imperialism.” — Louis E. Fenech, Journal of International Migration and Integration

“Combining mastery over the range of scholarly and activist writing about Sikh history and culture with creative incorporation of nontextual sources. . . . Scholars of immigration and diaspora, of Sikh communities in India and abroad, and of the ways in which written and artistic sources can collaborate to elucidate social and cultural history will all find this book signifcant.” — Michael H. Fisher, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“Diaspora studies in North America, in particular, have been particularly notorious for ignoring language materials, local cultures, or sometimes even the basic historiography of groups in countries and regions of origin. Similarly, area studies scholars often disregard the mobile networks linking their subject groups and locations to interregional and international spaces and imaginations. These exclusivist tendencies are magnified by the separate academic and professional spheres within which historians of Sikhism, Britain, the British Empire, South Asia, Asian diasporas, and popular culture operate. I venture to predict that Ballantyne's essays will be illuminating for all these groups and will perhaps inspire attempts to create webs linking them, as much as their subjects of study.” — Jayeeta Sharma, Journal of British Studies

“In all, Ballantyne’s book reminds us of the importance of context and interactions between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ in the articulation of diasporic identities. These issues are not unique to the Sikh diaspora. They are equally relevant to the understanding of other diasporic formations, and of the very concept of diaspora itself.” — Koh Keng We, Asian Journal of Social Science

“One of the many strengths of the book is its wider application for imperial history; Sikh, diaspora, and gender studies; and transnationalism and postcolonialism. . . . The structure of the book is clear and accessible, topped and tailed with explanatory chapters that both frame the main themes and clarify the arguments made in the four main chapters or overlapping essays. . . . [I]ts real contribution lies in adding to and developing the comparatively limited historical scholarship on empire and mobility.” — Shompa Lahiri, Victorian Studies

“The book is a sustained and important argument against the territorial boundedness of much South Asia and Sikh studies, the ahistorical study of culture, and the narrow textualist understanding of religion and identity. . . . [T]he important contribution of the book is its method and scope: how to use a transnational framework and long historical span to study history that is mobile in time and space.” — Inderpal Grewal, International History Review

“This rich, diverse, and always compelling volume gives us a view into the changing nature of Sikh culture and the Sikh engagement with modernity, from the early colonial era up to the present. . . . Immensely satisfying and suggestive . . . Ballantyne has given us in this book an exemplary study of the interrelated workings of colonialism, migration, and modernity.” — Thomas R. Metcalf, Journal of World History

Between Colonialism and Diaspora is a major new work on Sikh history and culture. Tony Ballantyne has framed historical events and personalities within the broad context of transformations emerging from colonial rule. His treatment of Sikh memory and the past is provocative, and the final section on bhangra explores the broad implications of how a distinctly Punjabi cultural tradition has changed and in turn influenced international dance and music.” — N. Gerald Barrier, coeditor of Sikhism and History

“Moving between the Punjab and Britain, Australia, and the United States, Between Colonialism and Diaspora tracks moments in the making of Sikh identities across imperial and postcolonial encounters, from military masculinities to bhangra, from the 1840s to the present. Tony Ballantyne is establishing himself as one of the most exciting voices amongst a new generation of historians.” — Catherine Hall, author of Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination, 1830–1867


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Tony Ballantyne is Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Otago in New Zealand. He is the author of Orientalism and Race: Aryanism in the British Empire and a coeditor of Bodies in Contact: Rethinking Colonial Encounters in World History, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface vii

1. Framing/Reframing Sikh Histories 1

2. Entangled Pasts Colonialism, Mobility, and the Systematization of Sikhism 34

3. Maharaha Dalip Singh, Memory and the Negotiation of Sikh Identity 86

4. Displacement, Diaspora, and Difference in the Making of Bhangra 121

Epilogue 160

Notes 175

Glossary 197

Bibliography 201

Index 215
Sales/Territorial Rights: World exc South Asia

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3824-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3809-3
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