• Reclaimed Lands: The Ecological Legacies of Colonial Bombay’s Coasts
    Deepa Ramaswamy

Mary Ann Scott-Moncrieff, "Panoramic View of Bombay taken from Malabar Hill," 1862. Watercolor on 5 folding pages. Courtesy: Wikmedia Commons (

Mumbai’s endangered coasts are the sites of ongoing climate disasters. They are also the artifacts of prolonged land reclamations into the sea as part of the colonial project of landscape transformations beginning in the seventeenth century. This project argues that the speculative and infrastructural act of creating exploitable land from the sea is embedded in the genealogy of the island city. Mumbai’s coasts are discrete landforms that have differentiated histories with micronarratives of displaced populations, damaged ecosystems, indigenous agency, and colonial environmental management and resource extraction processes. By studying the histories of the city’s coasts through historical, visual, and archival frameworks, the research excavates the ecological legacies of the colonial project of territorial expansionism along Mumbai’s coasts. The project also elicits what scholar Rob Nixon calls the “long emergencies of the slow violence” of climate change by drawing on the intersections between land, infrastructure, risk, and climate change.

Deepa Ramaswamy is an architect and historian who grew up in Mumbai. She is currently an assistant professor of architecture and urbanism at the University of Houston. Ramaswamy has a PhD in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other degrees from the Architectural Association and Mumbai University. Ramaswamy’s research examines land, legal and environmental histories, with a focus on the points of contact between the global south and the west. Her current research projects include studying the histories of reclaimed land along Mumbai’s coasts, and her ongoing book project, Transactional Terrains that traces the history of the privatized public realm in 1960s New York. Her research has been supported by the GAHTC-Mellon grant, Rockefeller Archive Center, and the Getty Research Institute, among others. Some of her recent works are in the Journal of Planning History, Arris, and Neoliberalism on the Ground.