Social Sciences - history, 2009

Prof. Upinder Singh

Professor, Department of History and Reader, University of Delhi

The Infosys Prize in Social Sciences – History goes to Professor Upinder Singh in recognition of her contributions as an outstanding historian of ancient and early medieval Indian history.

Infographic: Rediscovering ancient Indian history


Professor Upinder Singh completed her Bachelor's degree in History (Honors) from St. Stephen's College, University of Delhi. She followed this with two postgraduate degrees, a Master of Arts in History and an M.Phil. in History, both from the University of Delhi. She completed her Ph.D. at McGill University, Montreal, Canada, with a thesis titled "Kings, Brahmanas, and Temples in Orissa: an epigraphic study (300-1147 CE)".

In 1985, Singh was awarded the Netherlands Government Reciprocal Fellowship to pursue research at the Instituut Kern, Leiden. In 1999, she was awarded the Ancient India and Iran Trust/Wallace India Visiting Fellowship to pursue research in Cambridge and London. During this period, she was also a Visiting Fellow of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. Singh is a recipient of the prestigious Daniel Ingalls Fellowship at the Harvard-Yenching Institute, Harvard University (2005).

She is the National Coordinator for History at the Institute of Life Long Learning at the University of Delhi. Currently Professor in the Department of History at the University of Delhi, Singh is engaged in research on the intellectual history of ancient and early medieval Indian history.

Scope and impact of work

Professor Upinder Singh first made her mark in the field of historical scholarship with an excellent epigraphic study of state and religion in Orissa from the fourth to the twelfth century. She then made a pioneering contribution to ancient urban history in a book on Delhi. Along with her colleague Professor Nayanjot Lahiri of Delhi University, Singh has scaled the distance between ancient and modern history and connected the separate worlds of archaeological and literary sources to provide fresh insights into the modern rediscovery of ancient India. Their work illuminates the intricacies of nineteenth and early twentieth-century archaeology as well as the complexities of ancient Indian history.

Singh's book, A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the Twelfth Century (2008), is a magnificent achievement, impressive in realizing its chronological ambitions without making any geographical sacrifices.

She recognizes the role of all of the subcontinent's diverse regional peoples as historical actors in shaping the idea of India. Her work has led historians to rethink the conventional periodization of Indian history.

Her eye for visual detail and her elegant prose have ensured that the best historical research is reaching a wide readership beyond the circle of academic specialists. She has inspired and trained a younger generation of historians to adopt innovative methods in the study of early Indian history. A wonderful historian, Singh is a key figure in rejuvenating the study of early history and archaeology in India.

Citation by the Infosys Prize Social Sciences Jury

Professor Upinder Singh is being recognized for her rich contributions as an outstanding historian of ancient and early medieval India. The depth and breadth of her scholarly research are matched by a rare ability to communicate her findings to a broad audience of students and intellectually curious non-specialists. She has been a pioneer in supplementing literary sources with an impressive array of archaeological, epigraphic and numismatic evidence to brilliantly reconstruct early Indian history. The vast chronological span of her scholarship stretches across millennia from the Paleolithic and Mesolithic ages to 1200 CE.

Equally impressive is the geographical spread of her research, covering all the diverse regions of India. Attentive to regional distinctions, Singh is able to offer an overarching and subtle interpretation of Indian history and culture. As an innovative scholar who enables her readers to re-envision the idea of India, Singh is an ideal recipient of the inaugural Infosys Prize in Social Sciences - History.