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Alka Raman

EHS Postan Fellow

Dr Alka Raman is a historian of technological change in global history. Her work explores the transnational roots of technological evolution by examining the influence of pre-industrial Indian cotton textiles on industrialisation in the British cotton industry during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Alka's research

Alka’s research analyses the intersection of import substitution and technological change. She uses the first industrial revolution within the British cotton industry as her primary case study for studying the motivations driving technological change through increased mechanisation in global history. In her doctoral dissertation, Alka has assessed the impact of Indian cotton textiles on industrialisation in the nascent British cotton industry. Using material sources – surviving British and Indian textiles from the 18th and 19th centuries – and an empirical, experiments-based methodology, her thesis has shown that the British cotton industry evolved in pursuit of the characteristics and qualities of fine and printed/painted Indian cottons.

On the basis of the material evidence related to cloth and print quality, Alka examines the materiality of techniques and technologies to produce cotton cloth in Britain in imitation of Indian cottons. She demonstrates that technological change, both in cotton yarn spinning and printing/dyeing, is fundamentally path dependent and based upon the Indian technologies and techniques of yarn spinning and cotton cloth printing/dyeing. She concludes that technological change related to the first industrial revolution in the British cotton industry was end-product specific and geared towards the achievement of targeted product characteristics. In the case of the British cotton industry, which triggered modern economic growth, technological interventions were essential if the replication of the qualities and characteristics of handmade Indian fine and printed/painted cotton textiles was to be successfully achieved.

Alka’s research will, next, focus on the impact of the surface ornamentation of Indian cotton textiles (prints and designs) on the growth of textile manufacturing in Britain, in the cotton, silk and woollen industries, as well as on understanding Indian techniques of dyeing with indigo and their implications for the historiography of dyestuffs.

Alka has an MSc (Research) with Distinction and a PhD in Economic History (no revisions) from the London School of Economics and Political Science.