Professor Pippa Virdee

Job: Professor of Modern South Asian History

Faculty: Arts, Design and Humanities

School/department: School of Humanities

Address: De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester, UK, LE1 9BH

T: +44 (0)116 207 8595


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Personal profile

I joined DMU in 2006, shortly after completing my PhD at Coventry University. My teaching and research have focused on colonial history, particularly the region of the Punjab, which has been shaped by the 1947 Partition. Throughout my time at DMU, I have developed and taught courses on British India: 1857-1947 and Borders and Boundaries, which explored the post-colonial history of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

I am currently Head of History and teach on a number of modules across the BA History programme. I am happy to discuss any proposals, if you are interested in pursuing a PhD.

My current interests are related to revisiting local history via the transformation of cities such as Leicester and Coventry. I am also working on a monograph on women's history in Pakistan. 

Publications and outputs

  • Partitioning the University of the Panjab, 1947
    dc.title: Partitioning the University of the Panjab, 1947 Virdee, Pippa; Bangash, Yaqoob Khan dc.description.abstract: In the summer of 1947, as preparations commenced for the partition of the province of Punjab in British India, the Lahore-based Panjab University became the site of a fierce debate concerning its future. Waged within, by its officials, as well as between the members of the Punjab Partition Committee, this debate saw the Hindus and Sikhs among them desiring a ‘physical’ partitioning of the university, while the Muslims wanted it to stay intact at Lahore, which was expected to fall in Pakistan. With no agreement forthcoming, and after references to the respective ‘national’ governments, the university remained where it was, while any ideas of academic cooperation between the two sides collapsed, as a new ‘East Panjab University’ was established at Simla, India. The debate over this new university vis-à-vis its old counterpart, further carved out the university as a space of not just education, but one of exhibiting new-found sovereignty and creating a staff/student-citizenry, in those partitioned times. dc.description: The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link. open access article
  • Histories and Memories in the Digital Age of Partition Studies
    dc.title: Histories and Memories in the Digital Age of Partition Studies Virdee, Pippa dc.description.abstract: Since its 70th anniversary in 2017, a wider public caravan of commemoration led by interested individuals and groups has joined academic studies of India’s Partition. These are more popular among the South Asian Diaspora in the Global North (UK/US), where they are a part of the ‘intellectual decolonization’ agenda. The digital turn in oral history has been a catalyst for this development, in which documentation, production, and consumption are all in digital formats. This essay asks some questions of this growing field, starting with interrogation of its location in the West, away from the partitioned ground and its socio-political realities in the East. The essay retraces the twentieth-century genealogy of oral history and its interaction with Partition Studies prior to the current trends, before commenting upon the place of Partition in Memory Studies. Above all, this essay attempts to question the power dynamics around the ways digital projects excerpt, de-contextualize, and de-politicize oral testimonies, by reducing them to sound bites for wider social and community engagement, in which memory is passively consumed. dc.description: The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.
  • Pakistan: A Very Short Introduction
    dc.title: Pakistan: A Very Short Introduction Virdee, Pippa dc.description.abstract: What is Pakistan? The name refers to a seventy-year-old post-colonial product of the bloodiest partition of territory and population that accompanied the end of British empire in South Asia. But the region of the Indus Valley has a four-thousand-year-old history, and was the site of one of the earliest and greatest riverine civilisations in the world. Although the modern nation of Pakistan as we know it was created as a homeland for the Muslims of British India, it is impossible to understand the complex tapestry of linguistic, ethnic, and cultural identities and tensions of the region without tracing its deep past. This Very Short Introduction looks at Pakistan as one of the two nation-states of the Indian sub-continent that emerged in 1947. Pippa Virdee reaches into the ancient past to demonstrate the influence of trajectories of human settlement and civilisation on Pakistan's contemporary political arena, and shows how the longer continuities between the land and its peoples are as important as the short-term changes in the political landscape. She considers Pakistan's religion and society, the state and the military, everyday life, popular culture, languages and literature, as well as Pakistan's relationship with the rest of the world. Virdee also looks to the challenges of the 21st century and the future of Pakistan.
  • Women and Pakistan International Airlines in Ayub Khan's Pakistan
    dc.title: Women and Pakistan International Airlines in Ayub Khan's Pakistan Virdee, Pippa dc.description.abstract: This article weaves together several unique circumstances that inadvertently created spaces for women to emerge away from the traditional roles of womanhood ascribed to them in Pakistan. It begins by tracing the emergence of the Pakistan International Airlines as a national carrier that provided an essential glue to the two wings of Pakistan. Operating in the backdrop of nascent nationhood, the airline opens an opportunity for the new working women in Pakistan. Based on first-hand accounts provided by former female employees, and supplementing it with official documents, newspaper reports and the advertising used for marketing at the time, it seeks to provide an illuminating insight into the early history of women in Pakistan. While the use of women as markers of modernity and propaganda is not new, here within the context of Cold War and American cultural diplomacy, the ‘modernist’ vision of the Ayub-era in Pakistan (1958–1969), and its accompanying jet-age provide a unique lens through which to explore the changing role of women. The article showcases a different approach to understanding the so-called ‘golden age’ of Pakistani history: a neglected area of the international history on Pakistan, which is far too often one-dimensional. dc.description: The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.
  • From Mano Majra to Faqiranwalla: Revisiting the Train to Pakistan
    dc.title: From Mano Majra to Faqiranwalla: Revisiting the Train to Pakistan Virdee, Pippa; Safdar, Arafat dc.description.abstract: Khushwant Singh’s novel Train to Pakistan was published in 1956, almost ten years after the partition of India/ creation of Pakistan in 1947. Its publication inaugurated what has been called 'South Asian Partition Fiction in English' (Roy 2010). It remains, to date, one of the most poignant and realistic fictional accounts depicting the welter of partition and saw a sensitive screen adaptation in 1998 by Pamela Rooks. It captures one of the most horrific symbols of partition—that of the burning, charred and lifeless trains that moved migrants and evacuated refugees from one side of the border to the other. The trains that previously served to bring people and goods from disparate worlds closer together were overnight turned into targets of mob attacks and transporters of mass corpses. They thus became an emblem, a much-photographed representation (Kapoor 2013) of the wider violence and ethnic cleansing that was taking place in Panjab (Ahmed 2002: 9-28); one of the two regions divided to make way for the two new nation-states. Selecting some key individuals in the village, relevant to and representative of our efforts to excavate the myths and memories associated with partition, and situating their sensibilities vis-à-vis the sentiments exhibited in the novel, we conducted interviews to collect and compare experiential accounts. An attempt in the Wildean spirit to attest that 'life imitates art far more than art imitates life', the article, located in the Faqiranwalla of 2017, looks back to the Mano Majra of 1947. In doing so, not only does it reflect on this intervening time-span and what it has done to those remembrances, but, also brings to fore the well-remarked realisation that, in this case too, 'the past is another country' (Judt 1992). Like in the novel then and life today, the connecting link in this article too, between Faqiranwalla and Mano Majra, is the train, as both share the overweening presence of the railways in the village, through which its life is/was governed. dc.description: Open access journal
  • From the Ashes of 1947: Reimagining Punjab
    dc.title: From the Ashes of 1947: Reimagining Punjab Virdee, Pippa dc.description.abstract: This book revisits the partition of the Punjab, its attendant violence and, as a consequence, the divided and dislocated Punjabi lives. Navigating nostalgia and trauma, dreams and laments, identity(s) and homeland(s), it explores the partition of the very idea of Punjabiyat. It was Punjab (along with Bengal) that was divided to create the new nations of India and Pakistan and that inherited a communalised and fractured self. In subsequent years, religious and linguistic sub-divisions followed – arguably, no other region of the sub-continent has had its linguistic and ethnic history submerged within respective national and religious identity(s) and none paid the price of partition like the pluralistic, pre-partition Punjab. This book is about the dissonance, distortion and dilution which details the past of the region. It describes ‘people’s history’ through diverse oral narratives, literary traditions and popular accounts. In terms of space, it documents the experience of partition in the two prosperous localities of Ludhiana and Lyallpur (now Faisalabad), with a focus on migration; and in the Muslim princely state of Malerkotla, with a focus on its escape from the violence of 1947. In terms of groups, it especially attends to women and their experiences, beyond the symbolic prism of ‘honour’. Critically examining existing accounts, discussing the differential impact of partition, and partaking in the ever democratising discourse on it, this book attempts to illustrate the lack of closure associated with 1947.
  • 'No-mans Land' and the Creation of Partitioned Histories in India/Pakistan
    dc.title: 'No-mans Land' and the Creation of Partitioned Histories in India/Pakistan Virdee, Pippa dc.description.abstract: This chapter contextualizes the background to the violence and migration that accompanied independence and Britain’s departure from its ‘jewel in the crown’. It then discusses remembrance of these events as reflected in the main controversies among scholars surrounding the nature of the violence, the number of casualties and more recently to what extent partition-related violence should be considered genocide and/or a form of ethnic cleansing. The chapter then considers the ways in which literature and film have represented partition and debates over a peace museum and a memorial. The chapter finally considers the ways in which oral testimonies have been increasingly used to delve into the human cost of partition and consider the legacy of partition in conserving a re-imagined Punjabi community in the sub-continent and among the diaspora.
  • Dreams, Memories and Legacies: Partitioning India
    dc.title: Dreams, Memories and Legacies: Partitioning India Virdee, Pippa dc.description.abstract: This chapter examines the dreams, memories and legacies of partitioning the Punjab. It explores the expectations people had and the results of brutal and violent partition, which divided the people of Punjab.
  • The Heart Divided: Writing the Human Drama of Partition in India/Pakistan
    dc.title: The Heart Divided: Writing the Human Drama of Partition in India/Pakistan Virdee, Pippa
  • Remembering partition: women, oral histories and the Partition of 1947
    dc.title: Remembering partition: women, oral histories and the Partition of 1947 Virdee, Pippa dc.description.abstract: This article explores key developments in the way Partition has been represented in the history of India and Pakistan. It more specifically examines how alternative silent voices have been become more visible in the past fifteen years in the historiography of Partition. This shift has been made possible with the use of oral testimonies to document accounts of ordinary people’s experiences of this event in the history of India and Pakistan. The article then goes on to reflect on the author’s experiences of working in South Asia and the use of oral history as a radical and empowering tool in understanding women’s history in Pakistan.

View a full listing of Pippa Virdee's publications and outputs.

Key research outputs

Pakistan: A Very Short Introduction(Oxford University Press, 2021). 

From the Ashes of 1947. Reimgining Punjab. (Cambridge University Press, 2018).

'Women and Pakistan International Airlines in Ayub Khan's Pakistan.The International History Review (2018).

With Arafat Safdar. 'From Mano Majra to Faqiranwalla: Revisiting the Train to Pakistan.South Asia Chronicle (2018).

Research interests/expertise

Pippa’s area of academic interest is in British colonial history, the history of the Punjab, especially the Partition and its legacies, the construction of identity in colonial and post-colonial India and Pakistan. More recently she has been exploring the impact of new technologies on memory and memorialisation and women's history in Pakistan. 

Areas of teaching

  • The making of the modern world; 
  • British colonial history; 
  • Modern history of India and Pakistan. 


  • BA (Hons) International and Political Studies, Coventry University, 1996
  • PhD History, Coventry University, 2005

Honours and awards

In April 2009 Pippa was given an award by the Panjabis In Britain All Party Parliamentary Group at the House of Commons for her contribution to the promotion of Panjabi culture through outstanding research and publications. 

Membership of professional associations and societies

  • Fellow, Royal Historical Society
  • Punjab Research Group, Convenor 2007-2015
  • Oral History Society

Externally funded research grants information

Visiting fellowship at the Centre for Governance and Policy, ITU (Lahore, Pakistan) 2016 – 2017.

Short-term visiting research fellowship for foreign scholars, Higher Education Commission, Pakistan (September – November 2016).

Two-year research project from 2012-1014. €51,512.50 provided by the Gerda Henkel Foundation on ‘Gender Politics: Islam, the State and Women in Pakistan History.’

2007: Small Research Grant of £5,760 by the British Academy on ‘Examining Muslim women’s experience of partition, migration and resettlement in the West Punjab, 1947-1962.’

Professional esteem indicators

I have extensive experience of examining PhDs both in the UK and abroad. I regularly provide peer-reviews for journals, manuscripts, and grants proposals.

Newspaper/other publications 

  • Regularly maintain and publish on my own Blog:
  • ‘Lessons from Malerkotla’National Herald, 6 October 2019.
  • ‘The Trouble with Nostalgia’The Friday Times July 2019.
  • Corridor of Opportunity’, Asian Affairs, January 2019, pp. 46-7.
  • Sikh shrines in India and Pakistan – why construction of visa-free Kartarpur corridor is so historic’, The Conversation, 5 Dec 2018.
  • No Man’s land: the Wagah-Attari Border, LSE South Asia Blog, August 2017 (commissioned).
  • Freedom and Fear: India and Pakistan at 70, The Diplomat August 2017 (commissioned cover article).
  • Foreward. Kiyotaka Sato, Life Story of Mr Ram Krishen, (Research Centre for the History of Religious and Cultural Diversity, Meiji University, Tokyo, 2016).
  • ‘Revive the Past to Protect the Future’, Asian Affairs, May 2016
  • ‘The coming of the jet age: women, advertising and tourism in Pakistan.’ The News on Sunday, 23 November 2014. 
  • ‘Recovering history through nostalgia’ The News on Sunday August 24, 2014. 
  • Foreward. Kiyotaka Sato, Life Story of Mr Sarup Singh and Mrs Gurmit Kaur, (Research Centre for the History of Religious and Cultural Diversity, Meiji University, Tokyo, 2012).
  • ‘The Punjab: Migrations and Memories of the Homeland’ Asian Voice (2012).
  • ‘The Heart Divided: Muted Narratives and the Partition of the Punjab’ Transactions of the Leicester Literary & Philosophical Society, 2010, Volume 104, pp. 22-24.
  • Review article of Lucy Chester, Borders and Conflict in South Asia. The Radcliffe Boundary Commission and the Partition of Punjab (Manchester, 2009) in Reviews in History, review no. 995.
  • ‘From the Belgrave Road to the Golden Mile: the transformation of Asians in Leicester’, From Diasporas to Multi-Locality: Writing British Asian Cities, Working Paper (WBAC 006), 30 June 2009, pp. 1–18.
  • ‘Pakistan: women's quest for entitlement’, Open Democracy, 9 April 2009.


I have provided assistance to a number of media outlets regarding various TV and radio programmes. These include, the BBC, BBC Radio Four, BBC Asian Network, BBC Radio Leicester, ITV, and numerous foreign media outlets amongst others. Most recently my contributions were included in BBC One programme, ‘My Family, Partition and Me: India 1947’ (2017). 

Recent conferences/public talks



    • Podcast. ‘Remembering Partition in the Punjab: Part 1 and 2’. Realms of Memory. August 2023.
    • ‘The Challenges of Memory as History: a case study of India’s Partition’. Nottingham Trent University Research seminar. 10 May 2023.
    • ‘Connecting Pakistan’s Material and Cultural heritage: the past in the present.’ The HSS Annual Conference, Pakistan: Revisiting the Past. Reimagining the Future, 13-15 March.
    • From Silences to Virtual Memories: Partition History in the Digital Age. South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg. 2 February, 2023
    • Plenary Talk, ‘”Five Thousand years of Pakistan”: the ancient in the modern?’ The Pakistan Conference: 75 Years of Independence, 29-30 November, 2022 Mittal Institute, Harvard University.
    • VSI Book Talk at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, October 2022
    • ‘From Silences to Virtual Memories: 75 years of Partition Studies’ Plenary address, British Association of South Asian Studies, 31 March 2022.