Anne Murphy

Prospective Graduate Students / Postdocs

This faculty member is currently not actively recruiting graduate students or Postdoctoral Fellows, but might consider co-supervision together with another faculty member.

Associate Professor

Research Classification

Research Interests

Arts and Cultural Traditions
Literary or Artistic Work Analysis
Philosophy, History and Comparative Studies
cultural history
Early Modern Studies
Punjabi Studies
South Asian Studies

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Research Methodology

Cultural history
Oral history
Community Partnership
Language advocacy

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Negotiating shame & honour, caste & class: women in Punjabi theatre of East Punjab (2020)

Few females participated in early forms of Punjabi theatre until the 1940s and there is a dearth of information available on their contributions in the area. This dissertation examines reasons that prevented females from entering this field, and the stories of women who have. I focus on the life stories of four women who have made significant contributions to Punjabi theatre, Neena Tiwana, Rani Balbir Kaur, Navnindra Behl and Neelam Man Singh Chowdhry, whom I interviewed over a period of three months (February to April) in 2017, to understand what enabled and hindered their success. The dissertation begins with the history of women in performance within the Indian subcontinent in general, and the Punjab region of Northern India, in specific. I then investigate gendered norms within Punjabi society and their connection to ideas of shame and honour, which lead to a “script” which traditionally barred women from areas of performance in public spaces. Finally, I consider the success of the aforementioned females, looking again at ideas of shame, as well as the support of male relatives and dynamics of caste and class privilege as factors that enabled their ascendence within Punjabi theatre. Overall the dissertation seeks to understand the presence of shame and stigma for women in the theatre, and analyze how we can understand the emergence of these four women in a field that is otherwise dominated by men.

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Participating in other worlds: locating gurbilas literature in the wider world of Brajbhasha traditions (2020)

The full abstract for this thesis is available in the body of the thesis, and will be available when the embargo expires.

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Printmaking and Professionalism in Early Twentieth Century Bengal (2015)

The early twentieth century in Bengal was a time of great social transformation, when many new ways of being and making a living in the world became suddenly possible and negotiable. Amongst the new livelihoods finding expression in that time and place was that of the modern, urban, professional Bengali printmaking artist, one who combined professional artistic training and certification with a determination to carve out spaces of economic and social opportunity for himself, often very difficult circumstances. Most artists struggled to forge successful careers at this time, but those who were engaged with print and printmaking media were able to take advantage of unique opportunities and were faced with particular challenges. Each chapter of this thesis deals with particular images and objects, certain institutions and texts, in order to trace the modern, professional Bengali printmaking artist through the contested spaces of a rapidly professionalizing art world that was itself emerging and transforming in Bengal, particularly in the urban centre of Calcutta from roughly the 1920s to the 1940s. By looking closely at how therelationships between individualism and collectivity, and between village India andmodern urban agglomerations, were represented and negotiated in and through print and printmaking media during this period, this thesis also complicates our understanding of how these twinned issues were connected to the experience of modernity and modern art in South Asia. Finally, this thesis addresses the Bengal Famine of 1943, its representation in the art of the period, and how its cataclysmic circumstances were a context in which the issues and themes discussed throughout this project manifested in particularly urgent ways.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

From pre-colonial to colonial forms of engagement with Punjabi pasts: a study of some var texts (2022)

In Nādir Shāh dī vār, which was first compiled in 1916 and narrates the historical battle between Nadir Shah of Persia and Mughal King Muhammad Shah, the time operates in a cyclically destructive form through figures like Delhi and Kal. Interconnectedly, this time/ past occupies an all-powerful, all agential role of a divine in the text. This time/past/divine is frequently invoked and praised as the ultimate cause during the narration of the battle. These powerful, divine oriented roles of the time/past have been shared by some other well-known vār texts as well; these include vār texts written by Gurus and Bhai Gurdas, Čaṭẖeyā dī vār and Sikẖā dī vār, all of which were well known in the print and cultural milieus of late nineteenth century Punjab. Such cyclical, divine oriented renditions of the pasts shared by these pre-colonial texts were, however, gradually marginalized by colonial discipline of history writing. Under such colonial works as SM Latif’s History of the Panjab (1889), the past was no longer a source of invoking and praising a destructive, powerful, cyclical time/ divine. Instead, it was recounted in a linearized, human-oriented form. Such a changed relationship with the past, when moving from vār texts to the colonial discipline of history, is not without its social consequences. The imposition of the discipline of history is deeply entwined with our colonial-modern and religio-communal identities that we are inhabiting today. With the marginalization of such pre-colonial forms as vār texts, the past has become a sign of anachronism, on the one hand, which has to be shed off in order to enter the modernity, and a battleground for asserting Hindu, Muslim and/or Sikh communal identities, on the other. These vār texts are few surviving examples of precolonial forms which are no longer widely available for us today, but which can help us critically analyze our contemporary, colonized, modern, religious identities.

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The connectedness of Bhai Gurdas: intertextuality in the exegeses of Bhai Gurdas' Varan (2021)

This thesis sheds light on the Vārāṅ, a collection of works written by the scribe of the first version of the Sikh canon, the Kartarpuri Bīr (scripture; 1604 CE), Bhai Gurdas. Even though the Varan hold the title of being the “key” (kuṅjī) to the Sikh scriptures, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the Varan are not now commonly studied both in western scholarship and within Sikh spaces, in particular, Gurdwaras. Overall, however, the Varan have through the years greatly shaped the formation of a Sikh. The goal of the thesis is to move beyond Bhai Gurdas’ text to try and understand how it has been interpreted and understood within the Sikh intellectual community. The thesis looks at the reception history of the Varan with Bhai Vir Singh (1882-1957), who wrote an exegesis on the Varan in the early twentieth century, and Sant Gurbachan Singh (1902-1961), whose kathā (sermon) audio was recorded in the 1950s. Both are well-respected scholars and practitioners of the Sikh faith. These two thinkers, Bhai Vir Singh and Sant Gurbachan Singh, provide insight into how Bhai Gurdas’ works were understood, received, and promulgated. As seen through their respective exegeses, the Varan must be understood through intertextual linkages, both to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh canon, and a wide range of other traditional Sikh texts.

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Criminalizing the natives: a study of the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871 (2020)

The wandering groups of India, who were criminalized by the British through the Criminal Tribes Act of 1870 (“CTA”), have been a subject of much scholarly discussion. In my work, I place the Act in context more broadly, delineating its relationship with a wide range of legal initiatives and codes in both British India and the UK, to understand how the wandering tribes were integrated into a broader British legal regime in India. In the first chapter, I look into the specific conception of ‘crime’ in the nineteenth century British India. The colonial officials classified an activity as a ‘crime’ by relying on the information contained in the contemporary official reports, minutes, and the ethnographic accounts. The act of defining a crime was then followed by a campaign for its elimination which would later be publicized through what I call the elimination narrative. In the second chapter, I examine the development of CTA as a statute by looking into the debates over the draft bill which was circulated among the bureaucrats of Punjab, NWP & Oudh. I trace the different responses submitted by officials from Punjab and NWP & Oudh to the proposed Act, as some of its provisions were already in place in the latter and had already drawn criticism from the provincial bureaucrats due to their inefficacy. In the last chapter, I situate CTA in the wider imperial context by comparing it with the Habitual Criminals Act, 1869 (“HCA”) and highlight the difference in the imperial and colonial perspective of these wandering groups of people. I also explore the history of the Salvation Army mission in India and their efforts to reform the criminal tribes of India through a close reading of Criminocurology, a book written by one of the founders of the Salvation Army in India. Such a multi-pronged study of CTA helps us recreate not only the story of the wandering groups but also that of law as an important marker of change in the colonial society.

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Code-switching in the maintenance of Punjabi in the Lower Mainland (2019)

Punjabi language is widely used throughout the Lower Mainland, BC. It is the third most spoken immigrant language after Mandarin and Cantonese. Although Canada’s Official Bilingualism policy promotes English and French as official languages, many accommodations are made for immigrant languages such as Punjabi. As a result, it continues to thrive. Due to the close proximity of the two languages, Punjabi commonly makes use of English through code-switching. The use of code-switching is looked at in this thesis through an analysis of Lower Mainland radio and Bhangra music. The data for this project has been collected through listening to and transcribing radio segments and music lyrics. The data utilized was collected from two programs, Roshni and Punjabi Takeover, which both air on RED FM, a Surrey based Punjabi radio station. Analysis finds that Punjabi and English exist in interaction on Lower Mainland radio and in Bhangra music being played on Lower Mainland radio, through the use of code-switching. The use of code-switching is situational and depends on context. Code-switching is both functional and symbolic. There are a variety of motivations for it, including translation, attention attraction, and the negotiation of dual identities, also referred to as bi-lingual or bi-cultural identities. In this way, code-switching can support and maintain the use of Punjabi language for speakers with a variety of abilities in the language, preventing total language loss.

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Jat masculinity and deviant femininity in a punjabi romantic epic: exploring gender through Waris Shah's Hir (2018)

This thesis examines the representation of gender in Waris Shah’s Hīr, a romantic epic (qissā) composed during the late 1700s in Punjab. The author, Waris Shah, a Sufi of the Chishti tradition, lived during the eighteenth century. Hīr portrays the tragic story of the love between Hīr, a young woman of the Siyal clan, and Rāṅjhā, a young man known by his clan name; the story is sometimes called the “Romeo and Juliet” of Punjabi literature. This qissā is set in the rural, feudal plains of Punjab, where multiple clans strove to maintain or improve their status. In the qissā, Hīr, Waris Shah portrays gender through poetic metaphor, dialogue, character, and plot. I focus primarily on his protagonists, treating each of Hīr and Rāṅjhā as pivotal male and female characters, and secondarily on the character of Sahiti, Hīr’s sister-in-law in the story. I interrogate the gender representation of each character to uncover the social constructs to which Shah subscribed. I will argue that through the plot of the story, the dialogue, and the exchanges between the characters, a multiplicity of forms of gender is articulated. The portrayal of Shah’s main characters forces us to question the idea of gender norm, while recognizing how it functions as a social force. Through his complex characters Shah demonstrates the unorthodox gender is normal in this text. In Part I, I propose an overarching meaning for Shah’s multi-vocality of femininity as tied to the character of Hīr (and secondarily Sahiti), by paying close attention to the language Shah uses in describing her, the arc of her plot which ends in her murder, and her interaction with other women characters. In Part II, I propose an overarching meaning for Shah’s multi-vocal portrayal of masculinity as tied to the character of Rāṅjhā, by attending to descriptions of his appearance, his loss of property and arc that ends in his death, as well as his interactions with other characters. Through these two figures, Hīr and Rāṅjhā, Shah articulates a range of gendered forms, while ultimately adhering to patriarchal norms that are presented alongside other models.

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The heroine in modern Punjabi literature and the politics of desire (2013)

This thesis project focuses on the representation of the heroine in three works of contemporary modern Punjabi literature. More specifically, I address questions regarding the importance of the heroine in literature as well as the manner in which she is portrayed. Part of the work I have done is historical in scope, as each of the heroines is constructed in accordance with the needs and perspectives of the time of her creation. I argue that the preoccupation of writers centralizing their work around women was to address the rebellion that each heroine undertakes against their subordinate position in society. However, the rebellions that occurred took place within specific historical circumstances and within larger projects within which women’s roles would be defined. The first chapter begins with Sikh reformist Bhai Vir Singh’s Sundri written in 1898. Bhai Vir Singh constructs a role model Sundri, to re-energize a sleeping community. Problematically, through this process his heroine Sundri has to sacrifice her sexuality and is transformed into a goddess whose perfection is unattainable. The second chapter analyzes a literary movement that emerges alongside the nationalist movement. Gurbaksh Singh Preetlari’s novel Anviahi Maa (Unmarried Mother) was published in 1942. The heroine of this novel is a Bengali woman named Prabha who is shunned from society for being a woman who expresses and acts on her desire. The final chapter investigates the politics of desire in Shiv Kumar Batalvi’s Loona (1965). The women in this verse play are brought to the forefront to reveal the injustices that have been committed toward them by the patriarchal society that they are trapped in. Within these three works I analyze the constructed boundaries from which these heroines cannot escape. I critique the context in which each author defends or abandons his heroine. I argue in conclusion that that there is no appropriate space in Indian society or Punjabi literature for women to present themselves as sexual beings, without being chastised.

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