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Bakirathi Mani

Penn Presidential Compact Professor of English


Curriculum Vitae

Fisher-Bennett Hall 240

Bakirathi Mani is the Penn Presidential Compact Professor of English.  Her areas of interest include Asian American, American, and South Asian Studies; visual cultural studies; museum and curatorial studies; postcolonial theory; transnational feminist and queer of color theory; and interdisciplinary methods of research in comparative race and ethnic studies. She is a Core Faculty member of the Asian American Studies Program and the Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies Program at Penn.

Her book, Unseeing Empire: Photography, Representation, South Asian America (Duke University Press, 2020), earned an Honorable Mention Book Award from the Association of Asian American Studies in 2022.  Unseeing Empire  considers how empire continues to haunt contemporary photographic representations of South Asians in America, shaping both aesthetic  forms of racial self-representation as well as how diasporic viewers claim and identify with these images.  Weaving ethnographic work at museums across North America and in South Asia together with her own experience as a curator, Mani examines the limits of visibility and visuality for Asian Americans.  She is also the author of Aspiring to Home: South Asians in America (Stanford University Press, 2012).   Working across ethnographic, literary, historical and visual archives of South Asian American public culture,  Mani's essays have been published in American QuarterlySocial TextThe Journal of Asian American StudiesDiasporaPositions, and Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures in the Americas, among other journals. More recently, she has written on the circulation of photographs of anti-Asian violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, and photography's relation to imperial and settler-colonial archives in the U.S. and South Asia for AperturePIXBrooklyn Rail, and other public venues.  She is on the editorial advisory boards of Verge: Studies in Global Asias and the series Between Asias and Americas.  Mani is currently writing on family albums as objects of diaspora and as archives of decay.   

Mani earned her Ph.D. in Modern Thought and Literature from Stanford University, an M.A. in Modern Indian History from Jawaharlal Nehru University, and a B.S.F.S. in History and Diplomacy from Georgetown University.  Prior to joining Penn in 2023, Mani taught in the Department of English Literature at Swarthmore College for over twenty years, where she was a founding faculty member and inaugural Co-Director for the Tri-College Asian American Studies Program.  Mani is a curator of South Asian diasporic visual cultures, and regularly collaborates with with artists and non-profit arts organizations in the U.S. and South Asia.


Articles and Book Chapters

"Introduction: Aspiring to Home" Unframed: Discovering Image Practices in South Asia, ed. Rahaab Allana (2023)
"The Living Archive" Aperture (2023)
"Frame Instructions for the Greater Common Good" with Swati Rana and Sa'dia Rehman. Brooklyn Rail (2022)
"Introduction" PIX: A Photo Quarterly (2022)
"Reading with Care: Photography and Anti-Asian Violence" with Susette Min. Verge: Studies in Global Asias (2022)

Courses Taught

fall 2024

ENGL 8000.301 Pedagogy  

spring 2024

ENGL 7903.401 The Matter of the Archive  

fall 2023