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Women, Press and Protest in British and French India 1928-48

Professor Jane Chapman from the University of Lincoln has pioneered a revolutionary new strand of scholarship, examining how newspapers in British and French India acted as a public voice for mass protest by women.

The innovative study, entitled “Women, Press and Protest in British and French India 1928-48”, was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, and reveals the true impact of women's economic and political protest on and through their public activities, and associated newspaper contributions.

The new interdisciplinary research links media content analysis with established economic history methods to expose how disempowered people used newspapers to their advantage in their fight to become recognised citizens – a phenomenon Professor Chapman identifies as ‘cultural citizenship’ in her recent publication, Gender, Citizenship and Newspapers.

"The findings have shown us what we would call 'hidden history'. History that has been forgotten; particularly the role of women, how newspapers represent that, and how women themselves can use newspapers."

For Britain, France and millions of colonised individuals, India's transition from colonialism to independence represents a shared heritage in which women and print communications played a pivotal role. Professor Chapman’s groundbreaking research project reveals how difficult it was to disseminate ideas and information during periods of extreme censorship, exploring unchartered territory as it measures two specific historical cases.

By uncovering public communications in the forgotten French outpost of Pondicherry, where women were influential in steering anti-colonial consciousness, Professor Chapman celebrates the emergence of a disempowered, largely Tamil, community from the private to public sphere.

She also examines the fortunes of The Pioneer newspaper in British India, and how its traditional western propensity for “bad news” coverage meant that nationalist protest activities were given journalistic attention – inadvertently providing publicity for the freedom movement. Professor Chapman brings to light the intrinsic link between diminishing newspaper income and increased protest coverage, and highlights a broader change in the role of newspapers from 1928 through to 1948, when women took a leading role as supporters of independence.

The Pioneer research, which won a publisher’s prize in the UK, quantifies the influence of female activists by comparing the frequency of protests in newspaper coverage with changes in the amount and nature of advertising. Professor Chapman reveals how the press became a primary vehicle for the public communication of nationalist ideas, and at the same time, became implicated in the changing economic and political landscape that it reported on.

Her new findings build on Professor Chapman’s previous research project, funded in the early stages by the British Academy, on the contribution of French and British women to the newspaper origins of ‘cultural citizenship’.

Now Professor Chapman has successfully restored awareness of India’s part in a process of gendered empowerment – a heritage previously unknown to even French and British scholars.

Her revolutionary findings have been disseminated around the world through a touring exhibition, visiting Sydney, Australia, where she also gave a major public talk. The widespread coverage of Professor Chapman’s groundbreaking study through exhibitions, radio broadcasts, public lectures and seminars, resonates with concern about present-day female citizenship in Commonwealth countries, as she is recognised for raising awareness of the ever-important relationship between press, economics and ideology.