Mitra Sharafi

Evjue-Bascom Professor of Law


PhD (History), Princeton University (2006)
BCL (Law), Oxford University (1999)
BA (Law), Cambridge University (1998)
BA (History), McGill University (1996)


Mitra Sharafi is a legal historian of modern South Asia. She holds law degrees from Cambridge and Oxford (the UK equivalent of a JD and LLM) and a doctorate in history from Princeton. She has taught at the UW Law School and Legal Studies program since 2007. She is also affiliated with History and the Center for South Asia at UW-Madison. 

Sharafi's first book, Law and Identity in Colonial South Asia: Parsi Legal Culture, 1772-1947 (winner of the Law and Society Association's 2015 Hurst Prize) explores the legal culture of the Parsis or Zoroastrians of British India, an ethno-religious minority community that was unusually invested in colonial law. She is now working on her second book project, "Fear of the False: Forensic Science in Colonial India." This project examines colonial anxieties about planted evidence, dissimulation, truth, and justice in a colonial criminal context. Sharafi has published two articles from this research, namely one on bloodstain testing (winner of the LSA 2020 Article Prize) and another on abortion in colonial India. Her next major project will examine the world of non-European law students from across the British empire (and world) who came to London's Inns of Court to become barristers, 1860s-1960s.

Sharafi's research has been funded by the American Council of Learned Societies, Institute for Advanced Study, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Science Foundation, and Social Science Research Council. Most recently, she has been a recipient of an ACLS Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowship ’18 (National Humanities Center, 2020-1), a Davis Center Fellowship (Princeton History Dept., fall 2018), and an H. I. Romnes Faculty Fellowship (UW-Madison, 2018-24).

Her research interests include South Asian legal history; the history of criminal law and forensic science; the history of legal education and the legal profession; colonialism and empire; the history of contract law; law and society; law and religion; law and minorities; legal consciousness; legal pluralism; the history of law books; and the history of science and medicine.

At the UW Law School, Sharafi teaches Contracts I to first-year law students. For undergraduates, she has taught four Legal Studies courses (cross-listed with History): Legal Pluralism, Lawyers & Judges in the British Empire, Law and Colonialism, and History of Forensic Science. In 2021, she was the recipient of the Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching Award.

Mitra Sharafi is an active member of the American Society for Legal History (ASLH) and the Law and Society Association (LSA), and has been on the board of both. From 2005 until 2022, she ran the LSA’s South Asia Collaborative Research Network (CRN 22). In 2016-21, she was a core blogger for the Legal History Blog. She has also been faculty director of the J. Willard Hurst Summer Institute in Legal History.

Since 2010, Sharafi's South Asian Legal History Resources website has shared research guides and other tools for the historical study of law in South Asia. Follow her on Twitter @mjsharafi.

Scholarship & Publications


Law Repository


  • Mitra Sharafi presented "Trial by Certificate: Government Scientific Experts and India's Criminal Procedure Code s.293" during a Berkeley Legal History Workshop on Feb. 20, 2024, and during an ABF-Northwestern Legal History Colloquium on March 15, 2024. The article, a spin-off from Sharafi's book project, aims to convince judges in India to cross-examine scientific experts more via video-conferencing.

  • Mitra Sharafi was named president-elect of the American Society for Legal History (ASLH) during the awards ceremony of the 2023 ASLH annual meeting in Philadelphia on Oct. 28, 2023. Sharafi will be president-elect of the ASLH in 2023-25 and will be president in 2025-27.

  • Mitra Sharafi presented "Falsity and Forensic Science in South Asian Legal History" on June 20, 2023. This keynote adress, based on the book manuscript Sharafi is completing, was given during the 3rd Annual Asian Legal History Conference hosted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

  • Mitra Sharafi was awarded a 2022 Slesinger Award for Excellence in Mentoring by University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Women, Trans and Nonbinary Faculty Mentoring Program Advisory Committee. Twelve UW faculty members were nominated. Of these, three received the award. 

  • Mitra Sharafi presented "Fear of the False in Colonial South Asia" during the Max Planck Institute for Legal History-Tel Aviv University Law: Transnational Legal History Workshop on Nov. 22, 2022. The presentation was the introduction to Sharafi's book manuscript on the history of forensic science.

  • Mitra Sharafi presented "Lessons from Forensic Science: Why History Matters" during a webinar hosted by the Law and Social Science Network, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, India on Sept. 15, 2022. The talk drew on Sharafi's research for her current book project, "Fear of the False: Forensic Science in Colonial South Asia," along with her teaching on the history of forensic science in the English-speaking world (19th Century to present).

  • Mitra Sharafi presented "Planted Poison and Wrongful Convictions in Colonial South Asia" during New York University's Center for Global Asia South Asia Series on April 6, 2022. Watch the presentation

  • Mitra Sharafi contributed the blogpost "The Fish on Marchmont Street" to Humanities Moments, a project of the National Humanities Center. Read the blogpost

  • Mitra Sharafi recently published "Abortion in South Asia, 1860-1947: A medico-legal history" in Modern Asian Studies, vol. 55, issue 2, pp.371-428. The piece is a spin-off from her larger "Fear of the False: Forensic Science in Colonial South Asia" book project. Read the article

  • Mitra Sharafi presented "Planted Poison and Wrongful Convictions" at the Global Forensic Histories Workshop on March 19, 2021. The event was co-sponsored by UW Law School's Institute for Legal Studies, UC Hastings College of Law, and the American Society for Legal History. 

  • Mitra Sharafi presented "Planted Poison," as part of the National Humanities Center's fellows' lecture series. Sharafi's talk was on a chapter from her book project, "Fear of the False: Forensic Science in Colonial India." During 2020-21, she is working on the book manuscript as an American Council of Learned Society Burkhardt Fellow (virtual) at the National Humanities Center.

  • Mitra Sharafi presented "Interdisciplinary Studies and Forensics: Why History Matters" at the 1st International Symposium on Crime Studies in October. The symposium was hosted by the Center for Criminology & Forensic Studies and the Jindal Institute of Behavioural Sciences, O. P. Jindal Global University in Delhi, India. Watch the presentation on YouTube.

  • Mitra Sharafi presented "Imperial Truth Mechanics: Law and Forensic Science in Colonial India" for "Empires of Law in Colonial South Asia," an event hosted by the Rutgers British Studies Center. Along with the pre-recorded presentation, the event included a live Q&A with Sharafi and Tanya Agathocleous, CUNY/Hunter College.

  • Mitra Sharafi's article, "Abortion in South Asia, 1860-1947: A medico-legal history," was published in Modern Asian Studies in May 2020.

  • Mitra Sharafi presented "South Asians and West Africans at the Inns of Court: Empire and Expulsion circa 1900" at two recent events: the Notre Dame Law School Faculty Colloquium in November 2019, and the The Victoria Colloquium at University of Victoria in British Columbia in January 2020.

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