Q&A with Alka Raman

Researching the impact of Indian textiles on the early British cotton industry

Alka is a PhD candidate with the Department of Economic History, and recently won the LSE Festival poster prize

LSE has given me the purposeful academic life and the fulfilling academic environment I had hoped it would, and much more.

Alka Raman

Alka Raman
Alka Raman

What are you currently researching?

I’m researching the impact of pre-industrial Indian cotton textiles on industrialisation in the early British cotton industry.

Indian cottons were the handmade benchmark cotton products of the pre-industrial world – my research identifies specific channels of influence these handmade goods had on the production methods and processes of the early British cotton industry.

What attracted you to this area of research?

I’ve always been fascinated by the materiality of everyday objects, especially textiles. Hand-quilting with cotton fabrics furthered my interest in their historical evolution, specifically in how cotton textiles transitioned from South Asia to Europe and became the products symbolic of industrialisation and modern economic growth.

How will your research improve or have a wider impact on society?

My research helps us better understand the origins of industrialisation, which triggered modern economic growth. Fundamental to the research is the idea that learning is transferred through material objects that embody knowledge required for their reproduction.

This material knowledge facilitates process innovations. The idea has far-reaching implications for theories of technological innovation, reverse engineering as a model for process innovation in industry and openness of trade for economic growth.

What do you hope to do career-wise, long term?

I hope to work within academia, pursuing research and teaching. I would like to engage with stakeholders within industry to share the findings pertaining to process innovations through material knowledge and explore their current implications. I am also keen to work with museums to situate material cotton textiles within their interconnected and multicultural global contexts.

What are your top three tips to prospective students on the most effective way to approach research and keep stress levels down?

  • Time management: a little work every day in fixed hours allocated specifically for work goes a long way.
  • Self-discipline: working on days that you don’t feel like working is more rewarding in the long run than waiting for inspiration to strike.
  • Spend time outside academia regularly: it could be with your family, friends, hobbies, interests – anything and/or anyone that allows for pleasant recharging of batteries.

What resources are available at LSE to help young researchers?

The first port of call is the department itself and a supportive, open environment in the department, both within the faculty and the administrative staff, helps a lot.

The PhD academy is very helpful for administrative issues. The library staff are absolutely brilliant in helping with the logistics of gaining access to resources. The Women’s Library is a valuable resource hub; I was pleasantly surprised by the number of relevant archival resources I found there.

What do you enjoy most about studying at LSE?

I most enjoy the rigorous academic environment and the inspiring people at LSE. The wide variety of research undertaken in the Department of Economic History, as well as the wider school, means that you are surrounded by passionate, inquisitive colleagues working on fascinating, interesting topics, and who are also some of the nicest people I’ve met.

LSE has given me the purposeful academic life and the fulfilling academic environment I had hoped it would, and much more.