Dr Cathy Coombs

Dr Cathy Coombs

Lecturer in History (Teaching/Scholarship); Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence Teaching Enhancement Project Co-Leader

0113 343 3159

Summary: Modern Indian History; the colonial state and the end of empire; memory and narrative of partition; Indian Civil Service notions of masculinity; innovative pedagogy and assessment; student support

Location: Parkinson Building



I completed my BA degree in History at the University of Leeds in 2006, and continued to take a taught MA in Modern History in 2006-07, with a focus upon modern Indian topics. I began my doctoral study in October 2007 under the aegis of William Gould's AHRC-funded project, From Subjects to Citizens: Society and the Everyday State in India and Pakistan. This collaborative project with Royal Holloway in London sought to shed new light on the independence and partition period by bringing together researchers working on India and Pakistan in the 1940s. I have taught part-time in the School since 2007, and full-time since 2012. 

Research Interests

Focussing on the partitioned state of Punjab, my thesis research used memoir and diary accounts from British civil servants to analyse the narratives surrounding 1947. The British accounts offer an interpretation of the independence period in Punjab that can be used to reflect on the colonial ideology, as practised at the local level. The way in which memories were recorded and fitted into a narrative of the period offers an indication of the mentality of individual colonial administrators at the transfer of power and beyond. The thesis considered how the way in which the period is remembered tells us about the colonial administration, the extent to which individuals were drawn into and retained a colonial mentality, and the effect of these narratives of partition upon postcolonial collective memory.

Cultural history (imperial memory and memorialisation); Gender history (masculinity, the 'colonial man'); Imperial and Colonial history (decolonisation, colonial administration); Social history (memory and memoirs, professional and personal experiences of empire); Asia (India, particularly Punjab); 19th century; 20th century

Current Research Projects

My current research investigates the prevailing notions of masculinity and deportment for British civil servants in the Punjab between 1857 and 1947. Key questions include: the role played by racial stereotyping (in the Punjab, the labelling of so-called 'martial races') in determining the reputation of a province's civil servants; the extent to which public school norms were altered and adapted into a specifically 'Anglo-Indian' set of standards for masculinity and behaviour; and the gap between mythologies of active, nineteenth-century civilians and the more bureaucratic reality of the twentieth-century officer. I also have an ongoing interest in the way that partition is remembered in the UK, both through the arrival of communities from the subcontinent and the return of British officers.

Pedagogical Research

I completed the University of Leeds Teaching Award (level 2) in 2014, developing reflective practice in delivering BA and MA-level teaching, and resulting in Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy of England and Wales. My research interests focus on innovative teaching and assessment methods, as well as enhancing student support. In 2016-17, I took a leading role in developing a multi-disciplinary blended learning module to introduce level one students to the discovery theme Power and Conflict.

From January 2018 until January 2019, I am partially seconded to the Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence (LITE) to co-lead a Teaching Enhancement Project (TEP) with Dr Polly Wilding, entitled 'Keeping Everybody Happy? Delivering Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning on a Blended Learning Module’, exploring the success and impact of PIED1551 Power & Conflict - an introduction.

Undergraduate Teaching 

The Modern World (HIST1210) - lectures on race and power in nineteenth-century Europe and European empires

History Students into Schools (HIST2540) 

Thinking About History (HIST2557) 

History in the Media (HIST2570)

Empire, State and Society: Britain's Imperial Experience, c.1870-1914 (HIST3580)

Postgraduate Teaching

Research Methodology in History (HIST5000M)

Concepts and Debates in Social and Cultural History (HIST5850M)

I convene the core MA module in research methods and am involved in teaching sessions on the MA in Modern History and MA in Social and Cultural History.


'Partition Narratives: Displaced Trauma and Culpability among British Civil Servants in 1940s Punjab', "Modern Asian Studies", 45, 1 (Jan. 2011), 201-224

Also published in: Sherman, Taylor C., William Gould and Sarah Ansari, "From Subjects to Citizens: Society and the Everyday State in India and Pakistan, 1947-1970" (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 216-240