Weaving together the past and present, the rich and complex tapestry of a city in flux, this project seeks to encourage historical research centred around Chennai - and its journey from Madras to Chennai.

The city of Chennai (formerly Madras) in south India is known for its vibrant culture and rich heritage. It has been a site of significant social, economic and political phenomena and has undergone tremendous spatial transformation over the past four centuries. Significantly the social character of the city has changed immensely. The growth of the city was accompanied by new forms of human intervention upon the land and the water bodies that dotted the landscape in this corner of the Coromandel coast.

As the city expanded, many communities located in the urban periphery experienced sudden changes in their livelihoods and environments. While these processes undoubtedly had an uneven impact on different social classes, they fundamentally transformed Chennai into an emergent Indian metropolis as we know it today, which will be explored through this project.

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The motivation for this initiative came from a discussion on a book titled, “The Island at the Center of the World'' between Vijay and his friend Balaji, in 2020. In the course of their discussions on the city’s history, and interactions with 15 eminent historians working in this domain, the two friends saw several gaps in the tapestry of work available to the public. Inspired by this and the vibrant historical archives of cities such as Manhattan, New York City, Chicago and London, they realised the need to document and preserve the socio-economic, political, and cultural history of this metropolis.

Anchored as a partnership between Empowering Communities Through Education (ECTE) and LEAD at Krea University (IFMR), this is an effort to uncover and document Chennai’s history. In its first phase, the initiative will focus on encouraging historical research and writing through small grants, peer support, and workshops/conferences.

Call for Essays

The Making of a South Indian Metropolis: Chennai/Madras, 1919-1973

Do you want to uncover the captivating story of Chennai/Madras from 1919 to 1973? While many public historians have highlighted the city's history, there's still much to be explored. We're seeking engaging essays that tell the city's story in jargon-free language, welcoming contributions in both Tamil and English. Share your insights, dive into its past and be part of a vibrant dialogue where history meets analysis.

Selected participants will be provided a stipend and invited to present their work in a series of curated writing workshops. Explore some relevant resources on the histories of Chennai/Madras here.

Important Dates
  • Essay Proposal Deadline: February 9, 2024
  • Results Announcement: March 8, 2024
  • Inception Workshop: March 15, 2024
  • Final Submissions: November 29, 2024
  • Closing Workshop: December 2024

V. Geetha

Independent Scholar

Dr. T. Janaki

Assistant Professor, International Institute of Tamil Studies

John Mathew

Associate Professor of the History of Science, Krea University

Karen Coelho

Professor (retired) Madras Institute of Development Studies

Karthik Rao Cavale

Assistant Professor of Political Economy and Urban Studies, Krea University

Dr. G. J. Sudhakar

Professor and Head, Historical Studies, CPR Institute of Indological Research

Vijay Gnanaprasad

Product Manager, Amazon, and Organiser, Empowering Communities Through Education (ECTE)

LEAD at Krea University is an action-oriented research centre of IFMR Society that leverages the power of research, innovation and co-creation to solve complex and pressing challenges in development. LEAD has strategic oversight and brand support from Krea University (sponsored by IFMR Society) to enable synergies between academia and the research centre.


Empowering Communities Through Education (ECTE) is a non-profit organization based in Texas, USA, focusing on social and economic justice issues in Chennai, India, and the US. Researching and documenting Chennai's history and unveiling perspectives often overlooked aligns with ECTE's goal of sharing the city's diverse history, empowering voices, and contributing to broader discussions.

Interested in contributing to the project?

If you have any queries or would like to add to our bibliography, please write to [email protected]