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Rachel Berger, PhD

Associate Professor, History
Associate Dean, Academic Programs and Development , School of Graduate Studies

Rachel Berger, PhD

Rachel Berger is Associate Professor of History and Fellow of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute at Concordia. She is also Associate Dean of Academic Programs and Development at the School of Graduate Studies.

Rachel is a historian of medicine and the body in South Asia. In the past, she has worked on the history of Ayurvedic medicine in the context of late colonial biopolitics, Hindi-language discussions of gyneacology and reproductive medicine in interwar India, and the visual culture of consumption in the subcontinent. These topics are addressed in Ayurveda Made Modern: Political Histories of Indigenous Medicine in North India, 1900-1955 (Cambridge Imperial and Postcolonial Studies Series, Palgrave MacMillan, 2013).

Her current South Asia-based research project takes up the history of food and nutrition in interwar and early post-colonial India. The SSHRC- and Wellcome- funded project focuses on the emergence of nutrition as a governable category in the 1920s through an examination of the political, social, cultural and economic nexus of food production, distribution, preparation and consumption. It takes as its primary focus the story of Vanaspati Ghee (plant-based clarified 'butter'), which reveals the challenges of an an interwar biopolitics, the evolution of consumption in the subcontinent, and the déroulement of late-imperial economics, set against the rise of popular culture and the shifting mores of Indian life in modern times. 

She is also beginning work on the history of South Asian foodways in Canada, a project which includes a geo-mapping of "Indian" food in Montreal, a study of immigrant and refugee gardens/food sovereignty and sustainability movements, trappings of taste and authenticity, new food technologies and marketing strategies, and competing Franco- and Anglo-Orientialism. 

Rachel has long-standing scholarly and activist interests in queer lives (in theory and practice), reproductive politics, and questions of power in relation to the formalization of political and activist practices. Her new work on this subject, entitled "Reproductive Politics in Queer Times", centers on evolving discourses of 'choice' in neoliberal times, and the queer world-making through Assisted Reproductive Technologies and Practices. This research engages ethnography, textual & cultural analysis, legal studies, and queer theory to take up questions of reproduction and coupling set against the backdrop of homonationalism and the economization of life.


B.A. Concordia; M.A. University of Toronto; MPhil PhD University of Cambridge (Clare College)


Select Publications

Ayurveda Made Modern: Political Histories of Indigenous Medicine in North India, 1900-1955. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan Press, 2013.

“      "“The Gastropoetics of Sex: gluttony, lust and queer excess in late nationalist India” in special issue of South Asia on Sexualities in Translation, edited by Ishita Pande. (Accepted, expected publication in late 2020) 

“Clarified Commodities: Managing Ghee in Interwar India." Technology and culture 60, no. 4 (2019): 1004-1026. 

"Food, Gender, and Domesticity in Nationalist North India: Between Digestion and Desire." In King, Michelle T., (ed.) Culinary Nationalism in Asia. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019. 

“Indigenizing population control: Yashoda Devi and the construction of population politics in late colonial India” in Bala, P. (ed.), Sites of Desire: Medicine, Race, Gender and Sexuality in Colonial India and sub- Saharan Africa Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2018. 

"Alimentary Affairs: Historicizing food in Modern India" in Historical Compass 2018

“Ayurveda” in Gita Dharampal­Frick, Rachel Dwyer, Monika Kirloskar­, Steinbach, Jahnavi Phalkey (eds.), Key Concepts in Modern Indian Studies, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2015, 16-19.

“Between Digestion and Desire: genealogies of food in nationalist North India”, Modern Asian Studies, Firstview 2 (2013): 1-22.

Between the Biomoral and the Biomedical: Ayurveda’s political histories,” in Special Issue: “States of Healing: New Perspectives on the State in Histories of Medicine”, South Asian History and Culture, 4, 1 (2013): 48-64

Ayurveda and the Making of the Middle Class in North India, 1900-1948,” in Ayurveda: Modern and Global Identities, eds. D. Benner & F. Smith. (Buffalo: SUNY Press, 2008), 101-116.

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