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Ben Holt

LAHRI Postdoctoral Fellow (May 2022-May 2023)
Areas of expertise
India, Decolonisation, Conflict, Borderlands, Indigeneity
Clothworkers South Building (University of Leeds Campus)
Arts, Humanities and Cultures
Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute


After completing my BA (First Class Honours) and MA (Distinction) I undertook a PhD project at the University of Leeds under the supervisions of Professors William Gould and Simon Ball. I passed my viva in early 2022 with a thesis titled ‘the long decolonisation of the Assam highlands, 1942-1972’ before taking up my role as a LAHRI Postdoctoral Fellow. I currently balance my time at LAHRI alongside teaching at the University of Leeds and a role as an Editorial Associate.


My research is primarily concerned with separatist movements in India’s northeast from the late colonial period through the first decades of independence. This research has led to a primary thematic interest in three core themes, namely intrastate conflict, decolonisation and borderlands, which I have analysed with a keen eye towards comparative transnational and global perspectives. I have also written and presented on related issues such as state- and nation- building, counterinsurgency, colonial governance and nationalism. A central motivation for my work is to reflect on how dominant historical narratives – such as mythologies about the Nehruvian state or Indian counterinsurgency – hold up to scrutiny from the ‘margins’, providing crucial insight from the often-overlooked communities of India’s northeastern border regions.


‘Building the State and Conceiving the Nation: The Origins of Separatist Insurgency in the Mizo Hills, 1945-61’, Contemporary South Asia, 30.3 (2022), 313–30 <>.

‘Review of The Frontier Complex: Geopolitics and the Making of the India-China Border, 1846-1962. By Kyle J. Gardner. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021’, Journal of World History, 33.3 (2022).

‘The “elephant chasing the rat”: A reappraisal of Indian counterinsurgency c.1967-70’, TBC (forthcoming).

Conference Papers

2021/2: ‘Mythologies and Public Perception in Indian Counterinsurgency: A rebuttal from India’s northeast, c. 1967-70’. Rethinking War Conference. University of Pittsburgh.

‘Reappraising India’s COIN campaign in the Mizo conflict, 1966-70’. British Association for South Asian Studies Conference. University of Southampton.

2020: ‘Coercion or Consent? Civilian support for separatist conflict in India’s northeast’. 2nd Modern Conflict Research Symposium. Imperial War Museum North.

2019: ‘Cultural Subjugation in the Assam-Burmese borderlands: Weaponry, Symbolism and the colonial encounter’. British Association for South Asian Studies Conference. University of Durham.

2018: ‘Sowing the Seeds of Insurgency in India's North East: The Impact of Weapons Diffusion in the 1940s’. 2nd Annual White Rose South Asia Studies Conference. University of Sheffield.

Other Projects

During my PhD I was the lead sponsor for the White Rose South Asia Network’s annual conference, which drew speakers and attendees from several countries to collaborate on all things South Asia ( I have also contributed to various public history projects, such as the Weapons in Society conference held at the Royal Armouries. Additionally, I have an interest in global conflict studies and worked at the London-based NGO Action on Armed Violence in early 2019.

Scholarships and Awards

White Rose Arts and Humanities Scholarship for PhD study.

School of History Postgraduate Scholarship for MA study.

Historical Association Prize.

Dick Richardson Memorial Prize.

Various grants for research excursions, academic forums and public presentations.