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Isabel Huacuja Alonso

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Isabel Huacuja Alonso is a historian of sound media and modern South Asia. Her book Radio for the Millions: Hindi-Urdu Broadcasting Across Borders  (Columbia University Press, 2023) is a transnational history of radio broadcasting in Hindi and Urdu from the late colonial period through the early post-independence era (1920-1980). It argues that the medium of radio enabled listeners and broadcasters to contest the cultural, linguistic, and political agendas of the British colonial administration and the subsequent independent Indian and Pakistani governments. The book is the co-winner of the 2023 Institute of Pakistan Studies book award. Radio for the Millions expands on her dissertation (2015, University of Texas at Austin), which won the 2016 American Institute of Indian Studies Sardar Patel Award for “the best dissertation in any aspect of modern India defended at a US institution.”

Expanding upon her work on sound media and borders in South Asia, Huacuja Alonso has pursued other related research interests that highlight the region’s pivotal role in global transformations. She is a co-editor with Andrew Amstutz of the Modern Asian Studies journal special issue “Rethinking the Second World War in South Asia: Between theaters and beyond battles (2023). The special issue analyzes the war’s influence in the subcontinent from an interdisciplinary perspective and argues for the centrality of war to the region and for South Asia’s crucial role in the global war.

As part of a commitment to ensuring academic research and material reach a wider audience, Huacuja Alonso contributes to popular magazines and newspapers as well as engages in various translation projects. She, for example, translated an excerpt of Raza Ali Abidi’s very popular Urdu-language radio travelogue on the Grand Trunk Road. Huacuja Alonso is also interested in issues of positionality and representation in academia and published an essay with Hoda Hoda Bandeh-Ahmadi in the edited volume  Who Is the Asianist?:

Fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies (2015 and 2021), the Institute for Historical Studies at University of Texas at Austin (2016), and the American Institutes of Indian and Pakistan Studies (2011 and 2012) have funded her research. Her publications have appeared in Modern Asian Studies, Bioscope, South Asia, The Journal of Urdu Studies, SAGAR, TheWire, The Caravan and Scroll, among others. At Columbia, Huacuja Alonso teaches courses on South Asian history from an interdisciplinary perspective and on sound studies and media history in addition to Contemporary Civilization in the core curriculum. She is also affiliated with the Center for Study of Ethnicity and Race and with the Center for Comparative Media.


Modern South Asia at the Crossroads of Empires: WWII, Decolonization, and Partition

Sound and Listening Cultures of the Indian Subcontinent

Contemporary Civilization I

Contemporary Civilization II

PDF copies of most publications available here:



Radio for the Millions: Hindi-Urdu Broadcasting Across Borders (Columbia University Press, 2023)

 Special Issues

Rethinking the Second World War in South Asia: Between theaters and beyond battles”: Modern Asian Studies, Volume 57, Issue 5, September 2023.

 Selected Essays

(co-authored with Andrew Amstutz) “Rethinking the Second World War in South Asia: Between theaters and beyond battles:, Modern Asian Studies, Volume 57, Issue 5,2023

Broadcasting the ‘(anti)colonial sublime’: Radio SEAC, Congress Radio, and the Second World War in South AsiaModern Asian Studies, Volume 57, Issue 5, 2023.

Songs by Ballot: Binaca Geetmala and the Making of a Hindi Film Radio Audience, 1952-1994. ”, Bioscope: South Asian Screen Studies, Volume 13, Issue 1, 2022.

( co-authored with Hoda Bandeh-Ahmadi) “Who is a South Asianist? A Conversation on Positionality” in Who Is the Asianist?: The Politics of Representation in Asian Studies. Edited by Will Bridges, Keisha A. Brown, Nitasha Tamar Sharma, and Marvin D. Sterling, Columbia University Press, 2022.

(co-translated with Timsal Masud) “Shams ur-Raḥmān Fārūqī” by Nayyar Masʿūd (translation from Urdu), Journal of Urdu Studies, Vol 2 Iss. 1, Spring 2021. 

Radio, Citizenship and the ‘Sound Standards’ of a Newly Independent India” Public Culture. Vol. 31 Iss. 1, January 2019. 

M.N. Roy and the Mexican Revolution: How a Militant Indian Nationalist Became an International Communist,” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, Vol. 40 Iss. 3, 2017.

Jernali Sarak (The Grand Trunk Road): Excerpts from a Radio Show by Raza Ali Abidi,” (translation from Urdu) SAGAR, A South Asia Research Journal, Vol. 21 (special issue on translation), Fall 2013.

Selected Journalistic Works/Video/ Podcasts

Watch The Wire’s video interview about Radio for the Millions in Hindi-Urdu and English

Listen to an interview about Radio for the Millions on the Past Imperfect podcast

“Finding the Timeless and the Universal in Naiyer Masud’s Short Stories,” The Caravan (online), August 2017.

“What can the Spread of German Propaganda in India During WWII Tell Us about Fake News Today?” Scroll, December 2016.

The Voice Next Door: When Indian Listeners Got their Filmi Music Fix from Radio Ceylon,” The Caravan, December 2012.


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