Jessica Namakkal, Associate Professor of the Practice of International Comparative Studies

Jessica Namakkal

Please note: Jessica has left the "History" group at Duke University; some info here might not be up to date.

My first book Unsettling Utopia: The Making and Unmaking of French (Columbia University Press, 2021) presents a new account of the history of twentieth-century French India to show how colonial projects persisted beyond formal decolonization. Through the experience of the French territories, the book recasts the relationships among colonization, settlement, postcolonial sovereignty, utopianism, and liberation, considering questions of borders, exile, violence, and citizenship from the margins. I demonstrate how state-sponsored decolonization—the bureaucratic process of transferring governance from an imperial state to a postcolonial state—rarely aligned with local desires. The book examines the colonial histories of the Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville, arguing that their continued success shows how decolonization paradoxically opened new spaces of settlement, perpetuating imperial power. Challenging conventional markers of the boundaries of the colonial era as well as nationalist narratives, Unsettling Utopia sheds new light on the legacies of colonialism and offers bold thinking on what decolonization might yet mean.

I am currently working on two new projects, one on decolonizing cults and the other a history of sexuality, race-mixing, and colonialism in the 20th century. 

Office Location:  Ics Program, 210-C East Duke Building, Durham, NC 27708-0405
Email Address: send me a message
Web Page:

Teaching (Fall 2024):

Office Hours:

Fall 2021

Weds 1-3pm 

Ph.D.University of Minnesota, Twin Cities2012
PhDUniversity of Minnesota2013
BAUniversity of Southern California2001
Recent Publications

  1. Namakkal, J, Unsettling Utopia (December, 2021), Columbia University Press [doi]
  2. Namakkal, J, Unsettling Utopia The Making and Unmaking of French India (June, 2021), pp. 256 pages, ISBN 9780231197694  [abs]
  3. Bray, M; Namakkal, J; Riccò, G; Roubinek, E, Editors’ introduction, Radical History Review, vol. 2020 no. 138 (January, 2020), pp. 1-9 [doi]
  4. Namakkal, J, Decolonizing marriage and the family: The lives and letters of Ida, benoy, and Indira sarkar, Journal of Women's History, vol. 31 no. 2 (January, 2019), pp. 124-147, Project Muse [doi]  [abs]
  5. Namakkal, J, The Terror of Decolonization: Exploring French India's Goonda Raj, Interventions: international journal of postcolonial studies, vol. 19 no. 3 (April, 2017), pp. 338-357, Taylor & Frances [doi]  [abs]