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Barbara Ramusack in India:
Improving Our Understanding of India

Date: Jan. 23, 2002
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Portrait Photo by: Lisa Ventre
Archive: Research News

Events since Sept. 11 have raised awareness about the need for Americans to have a better grasp of the world outside the United States, particularly Asia. UC history professor Barbara Ramusack has been way ahead of that curve, focusing her attention on Asia, especially India, since she was a graduate student in 1964. Last year, a Fulbright award allowed her to probe more deeply into Indian history -- this time in the area of maternal and infant health care and welfare.

Barbara Ramusack

Although an interest in Asia is nothing new to her, she is seeing lots of signs that this area of interest is growing. She was part of a panel presentation on the history of Afghanistan that drew an overflow crowd of 150 to UC's Blegen Library during fall quarter. Soon afterward, while shopping at Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine, a passerby stopped her and said he recognized her as a speaker from that event.

When she was an undergraduate student, there were so few courses in Indian history that she entered her graduate specialty without any previous courses in the topic. Ramusack chose India over Japan as her main focus. "China was out of the question because scholars could not even get into the country. I thought India would never be boring because there is so much diversity there. I was attracted by the cultural interactions between so many groups."

As a UC professor, she has been among the pioneers introducing Asian and Indian history into the U.S. college curriculum. She is the co-author of one of the first published volumes to synthesize the history of Asian women into one general overview, published in 1999. It is now used as a textbook.

During her Fulbright research trip from November 2000 to April 2001, she devoted much of her time to doing what lots of historians do - sifting through documents in archives, mostly in the former princely state of Mysore and the former British colonial province of Madras. She hopes to draw comparisons between the Indian and British influences on women's and infants' health care.

She speaks Hindi a bit, but finds it only useful in Delhi and north India, so English comes in very handy in other cities like Chennai (formerly Madras) and Bangalore.


In New Delhi, she surveyed volumes of the Journal of the Association of Medical Women in India from 1909 to 1922. While there, she also probed into the extensive papers of Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddi at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. Reddi was a physician, an activist in women's organizations, a member of the Madras Legislative Council who was active in the promotion of maternal and infant welfare. In the city of Chennai (formerly Madras), she worked at the Tamilnadu State Archives and obtained permission from the Commissioner of Chennai to examine the proceedings of the Council of the Corporation of Madras. This research has sparked her interest in urban history.

She supplemented the written records with some oral histories from the daughter and granddaughter of a leading physician in the Mysore State Medical Service during the 1930s and the head of a highly reputed maternity home. In Bangalore, at the Karnataka State Archives she focused on the administrative reports from the Bangalore and Mysore municipalities.

Healthy baby contests, which are still common in many areas of India, maternity hospitals and child welfare centers are among the topics she is investigating. Her work, she hopes, will result not only in a book, but also greater understanding of the differences between north and south India and the diversity that is India, one of the world's most populous nations. While India occupies only 2.4 percent of the world's land area, it holds 15 percent of the world's population.

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