Meet GSF visiting Fulbright-Nehru Doctoral Research Fellow Arya Alvernas

Headshot of Indian woman in Black T-shirt in front of book case

I am a second-generation learner who grew up in a small fishing town in Kerala, in the southern tip of India. I hold a master’s degree in English Language and Literature and am currently a Ph.D. student at the Centre for Culture Studies, University of Kerala. For my dissertation, I study the regional politics of women’s sartorial reformation and the sartorial grammars of vernacular modernity, modesty, and gendered citizenship in early nineteenth-century Travancore, an erstwhile kingdom of Kerala. My academic interest in gender, women’s studies, and dress-history has largely been shaped by my own experiences as a young woman subaltern in Kerala whose ancestors’ marginalized caste legacy was etched onto their bodies through ritualized sartorial prohibitions.

I am a Fulbright Nehru Doctoral Research Fellow for the 2022-2023 academic year in residency at Duke University’s Program in Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies, under the academic counsel of Professor Frances S. Hasso. My proposed study, “Quilting the Feminine in Kerala: Regional and Transnational Flows of Feminist Sartorial Politics,” is an extension of my doctoral research. It lies at the intersections of cultural studies, dress history, and gender studies. As a Fulbright Fellow, I am furthering my research by attempting to map how regional ideations of womanhood/femininities have been stitched through transnational sartorial projects. I am particularly interested in studying the “Sewing Circles” organized by women in the US and in Kerala under the aegis of Christian missionary endeavours, as well as the fraught histories of women’s sartorial resistance practices, such as “Bloomerism” in the US and the “Upper-Cloth” revolts in Kerala.

My research at Duke in Durham, North Carolina, will allow me to explore cross-cultural facets of my dissertation focus, gain access to original nineteenth- and twentieth-century resources, and interact with a larger community of like-minded scholars. My archival research will primarily focus on resources from the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture and the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. I will use prescriptive literature and women’s magazines, along with archives on missionary women affiliated with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, to explore their social negotiations in colonial South India during the nineteenth and early twentieth-century. In fall 2022, I will be enrolled in Drs. Frances S. Hasso and Anna Krylova’s graduate/postgraduate/faculty theme year seminar, “Feminist Theory and Imperialism.” I hope to use the seminar to engage with the larger paradigm of the ‘Women’s Question’ against historic and contemporary economies of feminist activism in the context of imperialism.