2023- Amal Shahid

Pierre du Bois Prize 2023


The recipient of the Pierre du Bois Prize in 2023, awarded annually for the best doctoral thesis in International History and Politics defended at the Geneva Graduate Institute, is  Dr Amal Shahid.


Her thesis ‘The Political Economy of Famine Relief: Labour, Colonialism, and Public Works in the North-Western Provinces of India, c. 1860-1920′ focuses on how the British colonial state provided famine relief during the numerous famines that took place in the Indian subcontinent between c. 1860-1920. This involved setting up relief works, which comprised of construction on public works, in addition to arranging for various forms of gratuitous relief and distributing loans to selected agricultural classes. The dissertation demonstrates the intricate connections between each form of relief to highlight the centrality of labour regulation for the colonial state both to famine relief and to the overall sustenance of colonial rule in India. That is, it explores how the colonial state used famine relief as a means for control and management of Indian labour, but at the same time, how far famine relief illustrated the nature and limits of the colonial state’s governance in India. Using the framework of political economy, the thesis argues that famine relief management was informed by a utilitarian calculus that aimed at the justification of colonial despotism in order to maintain the ‘coolie’ as the main form of colonial subjecthood.  Additionally, the research explored the ideological impact of English Poor Laws and colonial knowledge-making to emphasize that not only did the colonial state rely on untested knowledge of the Indian society to frame its famine relief policy, but also, as a result, deepened divisions within the Indian society. The thesis concluded that the colonial state used famine relief to legitimise its position in the subcontinent and used moral rationalisations to direct famine-affected population into labour. This study thus helps understand the conceptual entanglements of morality and economy in the colonial context of the Indian subcontinent.

The dissertation could not have been completed without the continuous guidance and extensive feedback of Amal’s PhD supervisor, Professor G. Balachandran.


Amal is currently employed as a Postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Political Studies, University of Lausanne, on the FNS project ‘Moral and Economic Entrepreneurship: A Collaborative History of Global Switzerland 1800-1900’. Her sub-project studies the economic activities of the Basel Mission Society in India during the 19th century.

See Amal Shahid’s CV