Manu Bhagavan is a specialist on modern India, focusing on the twentieth-century late-colonial and post-colonial periods, with particular interests in human rights, (inter)nationalism, and questions of sovereignty. He is Professor of History, Human Rights, and Public Policy at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, the City University of New York, where he is also Senior Fellow at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies. At the undergraduate level he lectures on modern world history and on modern South Asian history, and offers seminars on Gandhi, modern India, and violence and ethnic conflict. His graduate classes focus on human rights, internationalism, and biography.
Manu is the author of the critically acclaimed The Peacemakers / India and the Quest for One World, published by HarperCollins India in 2012 and updated and expanded by Palgrave Macmillan in 2013. Set against the backdrop of World War II, Indian independence and decolonization, and the Cold War, this “splendid…stunning…hugely engrossing” first-of-its-kind international history, based on seven years of research in twenty archives on three continents, tells the story of India’s quest to build consensus around the framework of “human rights,” to bridge the divisions between East and West, between capitalist and communist, and to create “one world” free of empire, poverty, exploitation, and war.
Manu has just completed work on his latest book, a biography of Madame Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, one of the most significant and celebrated women of the twentieth century. Pandit’s story is intertwined with that of the modern world. She was India’s first woman cabinet minister, first ambassador to the United Nations, and first ambassador to the Soviet Union. She was also the first woman ambassador to the United States and the first woman elected President of the U.N. General Assembly. And yet her influence extended well beyond these formal roles. She was central to the establishment of the modern global order, grew to be one of the most influential international voices of peace and justice, and also paved the way for women across the world in many fields. This was the reason that Eleanor Roosevelt called her “the most remarkable woman” she had ever met! Based on eight years of research and using material in five languages from seven countries and over forty archives, this will be the first definitive biography of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, forthcoming December 2023 with Penguin/Viking (India).
Manu’s other major works include India and the Cold War (edited, 2019), published with the University of North Carolina Press and Penguin India; Hidden Histories (co-edited with Syed Akbar Hyder, 2018), published by Primus; and Sovereign Spheres (2003), Heterotopias (editor, 2010), and Speaking Truth to Power and Claiming Power from Below (co-edited with Anne Feldhaus, 2009, with multiple reprints), all with Oxford University Press. He has also published articles in The Journal of Asian Studies, Modern Asian Studies, The Indian Economic and Social History Review, and the Economic and Political Weekly, among other places. He reviews books for numerous publications and has maintained a blog on CNN-IBN.
Manu received a 2006 fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies and, more recently, Hunter’s 2023 Presidential Award for Excellence in Scholarship.
He has served as both an undergraduate and graduate advisor in the Hunter History Department, as the President of the Society for Advancing the History of South Asia, and as the Chair of the Human Rights Program at the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, where he is a Faculty Associate. Manu also served as a 2023 judge for the PEN Literary Awards in the category of Biography. Additionally, from fall 2017, he serves on the Senior Advisory Board of WGRN, an organization that advances the academic dialogue on global integration, democracy, and governance.
Manu’s March 2016 Quartz essay on the rise of global authoritarianism went viral internationally, received social media attention from the likes of Michiko Kakutani and Jonathan Capehart, and was translated into Czech (partially) and German, the latter for the lead, cover article of that year’s May issue of the Berliner Republik magazine. A compilation of all of his observations on authoritarian populism may be found here.
In the spring of 2019, Manu was featured, along with several other historians, in a comedy roast of the president of the United States as part of the Not the White House Correspondent’s Dinner, an event hosted by the political satire television program, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. The skit has been seen over 1 million times across various social media platforms.
Manu can also be seen in several internationally broadcast documentaries: Titans of the 20thc; Dynasties: The Families that Changed the World; and Behind History: Stories about the People and Events that Shaped the World. These films have been shown on the likes of PBS and the History Channel.
Manu regularly comments in the media about matters related to India, human rights, and global affairs. He has written for, been interviewed by, or appeared on: CNN, Time Magazine, The New York Times, Washington Post, WNYC & WHYY radio, CNBC, National Public Radio (NPR), Deutsche Welle (DW) German International TV, Maclean’s, Outlook Magazine, The Print, Scroll.in, Rajya Sabha Television (India), CNN-IBN (India), BBC World Radio, Fusion, Press TV (Iran), World Citizen Radio, INI9, HuffPost Live, and Al Jazeera English. Manu lives in New York.
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