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Professor Chandak Sengoopta

Contact details

Department of History, Classics and Archaeology
Birkbeck, University of London
Room 319
27 Russell Square

Tel: +44 (0)20 7631 6793 


  • Whilst retaining my interest in the history of medicine and science, I am currently working on a major new project on the historical, cultural and ideological contexts that shaped the work and impact of the film-maker, writer, designer and composer Satyajit Ray (1921-1992).  A major aim of the study is to analyse how Ray's films, in spite of their profoundly Bengali/Indian setting and tone, came to be seen, especially by Western critics, as timeless and universal.  Unlike the many biographical and critical studies on Ray, my project seeks to historicize his work and career, showing how they were shaped by the interplay of his three identities as a Bengali, an Indian and a "universal humanist".

Research and teaching

  • Research interests
  • I have three major research interests:
  • the history of European medicine
  • the history of modern science in India
  • the cultural history of modern India
  • In all these apparently disparate areas, I focus on the fundamental theme of identity and how sexual, racial and cultural identities are constructed, interpreted and disseminated in different historical contexts.
  • The latest product of this research is the book, The Most Secret Quintessence of Life: Sex, Glands and Hormones, 1850-1950 (University of Chicago Press, 2006), which investigates how the discovery of sex hormones transformed our notions of "male" and "female".
  • An earlier study analysed the biomedical roots of the Viennese philosopher Otto Weininger's notorious ideas on femininity and "Jewishness".  I have also researched the emergence of identification techniques and their relation to broader social and cultural factors in Imprint of the Raj: How Fingerprinting was Born in Colonial India (Macmillan 2003).
  • Teaching interests
  • At present I teach one Group 2 undergraduate course:
  • 'The Age of Science'
  • I am the Programme Director of the MA in Historical Research. I also teach the following  MA options:
  • 'The Historian's Craft'
  • 'Darwin, Darwinism and the Modern Ages'
  • 'The Victorian Communication Revolution'
  • 'Freud and Psychoanalysis: Past, Present, and Future'
  • 'An Empire of Knowledge: Science, Colonialism and Nationalism in British India'
  • I co-teach another MA option, 'Mind, Body and Self in Victorian Britain,' with Dr Nicola Bown of the Department of English, and 'Asian Nationalisms' with Dr Julia Lovell of the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology.
  • PhD supervision
  • I would be happy to supervise projects on the history of modern medicine and the life sciences, British and Central European cultural history; the history of colonialism (particularly on science and medicine in the British Empire); and the cultural history of modern India.
  • If you are interested in pursuing research in any of these areas, you should first read our advice on how to apply for MPhil/PhD research before submitting an application.


  • Books
  • The Rays before Satyajit: Creativity and Modernity in Colonial India Oxford University Press, 2016
  • The Most Secret Quintessence of Life: Sex, Glands, and Hormones, 1850-1950, University of Chicago Press, 2006.
  • Review by Elizabeth Siegel Watkins in JAMA-Journal of the American Medical Association (subscribe here)
  • Imprint of the Raj: How Fingerprinting was Born in Colonial India, Macmillan, 2003.
  • Japanese translation: Bungei Shunju (Tokyo), 2004
  • Review by Kevin Rushby in the Guardian
  • Otto Weininger: Sex, Science, and Self in Imperial Vienna, University of Chicago Press, 2000.
  • Czech translation: Academia (Prague), 2009
  • H-NET review by Volker Depkat
  • Review by Jason Cowley in the New Statesman
  • Selected articles
  • ''The fruits of independence': Satyajit Ray, Indian Nationhood and the Spectre of Empire', South Asian History and Culture, 2, no 3 (2011): 374-96
  • 'Satyajit Ray: Liberalism and its Vicissitudes', Cineaste [New York], 34, no 4 (Fall 2009): 16-22
  • '"The Universal Film for All of Us, Everywhere in the World": Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali (1955) and the Shadow of Robert Flaherty', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 29, no 3 (September 2009): 227-43. Awarded the Routledge-International Association for Media and History Award for an Outstanding Article by a Senior Scholar.
  • '"Dr Steinach Coming to Make Old Young": Sex Glands, Vasectomy and the Quest for Rejuvenation in the Roaring Twenties', Endeavour, 27 (2003): 22-26.
  • '"A Mob of Incoherent Symptoms?" Neurasthenia in British Medical Discourse', in: Marijke-Gijswijt Hofstra and Roy Porter (Eds), Cultures of Neurasthenia from Beard to the First World War (Rodopi, 2001), pp. 97-115.
  • 'Transforming the Testicle: Science, Medicine and Masculinity, 1800-1950', Medicina nei Secoli Arte e Scienza, 13, no. 3 (2001): 637-655.
  • 'The Modern Ovary: Constructions, Meanings, Uses', History of Science, 38 (2000): 425-88.
  • 'Glandular Politics: Experimental Biology, Clinical Medicine, and Homosexual Emancipation in Fin-de-Siècle Central Europe', Isis, 89 (1998): 445-73.
  • '"The Organic Mendacity of Woman": Otto Weininger, Hysteria, and the Political Ontology of the Self', History of Psychiatry, 9 (1998): 405-429.
  • 'The Unknown Weininger: Science, Philosophy, and Cultural Politics in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna,' Central European History, 29 (1996): 453-93.
  • 'Rejuvenation and the Prolongation of Life: Science or Quackery?,' Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 37 (1993): 55-66.
  • 'Science, Sexuality, and Gender in the Fin de Siècle: Otto Weininger as Baedeker,' History of Science, 30 (1992): 249-79.