Associate Professor History
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Rohit De is a lawyer and historian of modern South Asia and focuses on the legal history of the Indian subcontinent and the common law world. As a legal historian he moves beyond asking what the law was; to what actors thought law was and how this knowledge shaped their quotidian tactics, thoughts and actions. In recent years, this has enabled his research to move beyond the political borders to South Asia to uncover transnational legal geographies of commerce, migration and rights across East Africa, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean.
His book A People’s Constitution: Law and Everyday Life in the Indian Republic (Princeton University Press, 2018) explores how the Indian constitution, despite its elite authorship and alien antecedents, came to permeate everyday life and imagination in India during its transition from a colonial state to a democratic republic. A People’s Constitution won the Willard C Hurst Prize for the Best Book on Socio-Legal History from the Law and Society Association, the Heyman Prize in the Humanities from Yale University, the sole Honorable Mention for the Peter Gonville Stein Prize from the American Society for Legal History and was a finalist for the Kamaladevi Chattopadhayay Prize from the New India Foundation. It is currently being translated into Hindi, Marathi, Tamil and Malayalam.
His second book, Assembling the Indian Constitution, coauthored with Ornit Shani, examines at how thousands of ordinary Indians, read, deliberated, debated and substantially engaged with the anticipated constitution at the time of its writing and will be published in 2023.
He was awarded a Carnegie Fellowship in 2020 to support his research on Rights from the Left: Decolonization, Diasporas and a Global History of Rebellious Lawyering, which follows the careers of lawyers who defended unpopular causes across borders and over time, to offer an alternate history of universal rights and civil liberties that arise out of Asia and Africa and is mediated through India, Chinese and Caribbean diasporas. It charts how political trials and social movement lawyering in in Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Seychelles, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Jamaica, British Guyana and the United Kingdom, were produced by, and as part of, a transnational movement for civil liberties. The project also supported by the SSRC stands at the intersection of multiple fields: histories of human rights; decolonization and the Cold War; diaspora studies; and history of the legal profession.
Prof De is also interested in comparative constitutional law and is an Associate Research Scholar in Law at the Yale Law School. He has assisted Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan of the Supreme Court of India and worked on constitution reform projects in Nepal and Sri Lanka. He writes on contemporary legal issues in South Asia.
Prof De received his Ph.D from Princeton University, where he was elected to the Society of Woodrow Wilson Scholars. His dissertation won the Law and Society Association Prize for best representing outstanding work in law and society research in 2013. He has held fellowships from the Social Science Research Council, the Davis Centre for Historical Studies at Princeton University, the Melbourne Law School, and the Centre for Asian Legal Studies at the National University of Singapore.
He was the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for History and Economics and a fellow of Trinity Hall at the University of Cambridge before coming to Yale in 2014. Rohit received his law degrees from the Yale Law School and the National Law School of India University, Bangalore.
Rohit teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on South Asian history; postcolonial histories of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh; on Indian constitutional culture and political thought, South Asian diasporas and migration as well as courses on global legal history, law and colonialism and the legal profession. You can learn more about his work in his interview in the Yale Historical Review and the Macmillan Report.