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Gita Pai

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

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Gita Pai



Specialty area(s)

regional and transnational history of South Asia; South Asian diaspora in the U.S.; British Empire; religion and politics; material and visual culture; gender; global studies

Director, International & Global Studies Program

Brief biography

I teach courses that introduce the history of South Asia and its diaspora to the non-specialist as well as focus on thematic topics like religion, politics, and gender in the early modern, colonial, and postcolonial contexts of South Asia. Home to 1/4 of the world’s population, South Asia comprises Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Nearly 6 million people in the U.S. have family origins in South Asia, including me: I was born in Texas and raised in California by parents who immigrated from India.

In my courses, I encourage students to study the past from a variety of perspectives—social, economic, cultural, environmental, and political—and to understand the world they live in as a product of historical processes. I often employ the lenses of literary, visual, historical, ethnographic, and cinematic texts. I also direct the International & Global Studies Program and teach its capstone course.

As a historian of South Asia with interests in cultural, political, and religious history, my research focuses primarily on southeastern India, a region that is today Tamil Nadu. My first monograph, Architecture of Sovereignty: Stone Bodies, Colonial Gazes, and Living Gods in South India (Cambridge UP, 2023) traces historical transformations of a prominent temple site in Madurai through architecture, notions of sovereignty, visual culture, ritual practices, gender, and cultural tourism. My book-in-progress, In Pursuit of Dancing Śiva: The History of India’s Iconic Cultural Treasure examines a popular temple icon through dynastic politics, art history, ritual innovation, dance practices, and transnational crime. 

My research has been supported by grants and fellowships from the American Institute of Indian Studies; USIEF's Fulbright-Nehru Scholar program; UW-La Crosse's Provost Office, College of Arts, Social Sciences, & Humanities, Dept of History, and Faculty Research Grants program; Friends of the Princeton University Library; National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute; American Association of University Women; U.S. Dept of Education's Fulbright-Hays and Foreign Language & Area Studies programs; and UC Berkeley's Townsend Center for the Humanities.


Ph.D. South Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley
          (with a Designated Emphasis in Women, Gender, & Sexuality)
M.A. South Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley
M.S. Education, California State University, Hayward
B.A. English Language Arts and Education, Hunter College (C.U.N.Y.)


Teaching history

@ UW-La Crosse
World History (HIS 110)
Historiography and Historical Method (HIS 200)
Survey of Asia (HIS 250)*
History of Hinduism (HIS 328)*
Modern South Asia (HIS 363)*
Gandhi and the World (HIS 364)*
Women in South Asia (HIS 383)*
British Empire (HIS 410)*
Religion and Conflict in Modern South Asia (HIS 415)*
History Research Seminar (HIS 490)*
Engaging Global Challenges and Opportunities (INS 494)*

* Writing Emphasis

@ UC Berkeley
Survey of India (HIST 11)
Research Seminar (HIST 101)
Proseminar: Gandhi (HIST 103)
Modern South Asia (HIST 114B)

Professional history

UW-La Crosse
Assistant/Associate/Full Professor, History 2010-present
Director, International & Global Studies Program 2017-25
Affiliated Faculty, Race, Gender, & Sexuality Studies 2011-present

French Institute of Pondicherry
Senior Research Fellow, American Institute of Indian Studies 2022-23
Senior Research Fellow, Fulbright-Nehru (U.S.-India Educational Foundation) Program 2016-17 

Yale University
Summer Scholar, National Endowment for the Humanities 2018      

UC Berkeley
Visiting Assistant Professor, History 2012-13
Instructor, South Asian Studies, Gender & Women’s Studies, and History of Art 2003-09

Research and publishing

  Architecture of Sovereignty: Stone Bodies, Colonial Gazes, and Living Gods in South India (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2023)

Articles, chapters, essays, reviews, translations:
  "Activist authors, duty-bound Arjuna, and selfless action in early Indian nationalism,” in Mythologizing in South Asian Traditions, ed. D. Dmitrova (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2024). [forthcoming]
•  “Viral Vilification,” in Media Narratives and the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Asian Experience, eds. Shubhda Arora and Keval J. Kumar (New York: Routledge, 2023), 187-196.
•  “Hearing Voices,” in Reflections on Women Rewrite America: Transformative Learning in the Humanities (blog), CUNY Academic Commons, February 22, 2022,
•  “On being Asian American in La Crosse: A look at history, population growth, and a critical examination of the model minority myth,” with G. Iguchi, Currents: University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Blog, February 18, 2022, With hyperlinks.
•  “On Being Asian American in La Crosse,” with G. Iguchi, La Crosse Tribune, February 2, 2022, B3, and
•  “Art and architecture of the Vijayanagara empire,” in Smarthistory, October 25, 2021,
•  "When humans pose as Hindu gods," in Rethinking the Body in South Asian Traditions, ed. D. Dimitrova (New York: Routledge, 2021), 116-136. Paperback in 2022.
•  “From warrior queen to Śiva’s consort to political pawn: the genesis and development of a local goddess in Madurai,” in Divinizing in South Asian Traditions, eds. D. Dimitrova & T. Oranskaia (New York: Routledge, 2018), 59-70.
•  "Two sides of the 'India's daughters' coin," Vidura-A Journal of the Press Institute of India 9, no. 1 (January-March 2017): 11-12.
•  “An Imperial Japanese Visitor in Colonial India: Exchange, Resistance, and Formations of Asian Modernity,” Prabuddha Bharata ('Awakened India') 122, no. 1 (January 2017): 185-196. Issue: Special edition on Sister Nivedita aka Margaret E. Noble.
•  “Re-Enchantment in the Museum: Gaṇeśa, Hindu Art and the Living Divine,” Journal of Curatorial Studies 5, no. 2 (October 2016): 162-185.
•  “Producing heritage: culture as commodity in Madurai,” International Journal of Tourism Anthropology 5, no. 1/2 (June 2016): 47-70. Issue: “Sites of Religion, Sites of Heritage: Exploring the Interface between Religion and Heritage in Tourist Destinations.”
•  “Orwell’s Reflections on Saint Gandhi,” Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies 40, no. 1 (March 2014): 51-77. Issue: “Orienting Orwell: Asian and Global Perspectives on George Orwell.”
•  Review of Faisal Devji, The Impossible Indian: Gandhi and the Temptation of Violence (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012). History: Review of New Books 42, no. 1 (January 2014): 30-31.
•  Vikrama Cholan Ulaa by Ottakkuthar, trans. Kausalya Hart and Gita V. Pai (Chennai: Dhwani Books, 2003).

•  “Minakshi Temple, Madurai, India,” in Monuments sacrés: Temples d’Asie: Les hommes, la nature et les dieux ('Sacred Spaces-Temples of Asia: Humans, Nature, and Gods'), directed by Véronique Legendre (ARTE France & ZED, 2018/CuriosityStream, 2019). TRAILER.



Gita Pai, History, presented "Screening photographs: A look at global tourism, cultural heritage, and economic encounters in south India" at the 33rd World History Association Annual Meeting, co-hosted by San Francisco State University (SFSU) on June 28 in San Francisco, CA.

Submitted on: July 7


Gita Pai, History, authored the book "Architecture of Sovereignty: Stone Bodies, Colonial Gazes, and Living Gods in South India" published on Friday, Dec. 1 by Cambridge University Press.

Submitted on: Dec. 1, 2023


Gita Pai, History, authored the chapter "Viral Vilification" in Media Narratives and the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Asian Experience published on Nov. 1 by Routledge.

Submitted on: Nov. 16, 2023


Gita Pai, History, received the award for a Senior Research Fellowship at the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) on May 1, 2019 in University of Chicago. While on sabbatical during the 2019-2020 academic year, she will conduct research in India for her new book, "In Pursuit of Dancing Siva: The History of India’s Iconic Cultural Treasure."

Submitted on: May 9, 2019


and Ka Lia Smith, Financial Aid; received the award for 2019 ALANA Phenomenal Womxn's Award at ALANA Phenomenal Womxn's Dinner on April 18 in La Crosse, WI. ALANA honored four outstanding womxn of color Laura Abellera, Aiyana Dettmann, Gita Pai, and Ka Lia Smith for the dedication and hard work they have done in our community. The event also featured performances by UWL students and Nkauj Hmoob Siv Ceeb along with a Student Art Gallery! ALANA (Asian, Latinx, African, and Native American) Womxn organization provides social, academic, educational, and political support to womxn of ALANA descent. ALANA serves as a safe space for womxn of color and their allies, as well as provides awareness to our campus community about issues important to womxn of color.

Submitted on: May 9, 2019