Open University research has changed perceptions of how South Asians have contributed to Britain's cultural, intellectual and political life over more than one hundred years.
Open University (OU) research led by Professor Susheila Nasta in the OU’s Faculty of Arts challenges the dominant perception that multicultural Britain is a post-Second World War phenomenon and demonstrates that the early histories of South Asians in Britain are relevant to contemporary issues of British Asian and global citizenship.
This research derives from two research projects; the initial one, Making Britain investigated how South Asians shaped Britain from 1870-1950 and led to further funding from the Arts & Humanities Research Council for Beyond the Frame: Indian-British Connections, a public engagement project.
Led by Professor Nasta, these projects focused on the literary, cultural and political contributions made by South Asians to Britain. A pioneering scholar of the South Asian diaspora in Britain, Professor Nasta played a key role in pulling key collaborators together, namely the University of Oxford, University of London, the British Library, the British Council and the National Archives of India.
"Our early findings uncovered several Asian-British networks which allowed us to begin changing perceptions of how early South Asians contributed to Britain’s cultural, intellectual and political life,” said Professor Nasta.
These touring exhibitions have helped to re-frame public and political perception, in the UK and in India, of South Asian contributions to British life
The project’s research led to two touring exhibitions South Asians Making Britain and Beyond the Frame: India in Britain between 2010 and 2012.
Profiling visual and archival sources in international collections, Beyond the Frame highlighted the numerous ways in which South Asians positioned themselves within British society and culture and explored the significance of their impact on British life.
Showcasing key historical links and cultural exchanges that took place between India and Britain, it also uncovered the tensions that arose from such encounters.
Accompanied by outreach activities and online learning resources, these touring exhibitions have helped to re-frame public and political perception, in the UK and in India, of South Asian contributions to British life and culture before the Second World War.
Both were built on successful collaborations with major organisations - the British Library, the British Council (India), the British Museum, the National Archives of India (NAI), the South Bank Centre (London), and the Victoria and Albert Museum - and attracted large audiences, as well as extensive interest from media and policy-makers.