Professor of Law
Room 6112, Law School
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 University of Wisconsin-Madison since 2007.
Sharafi's first book, Law and Identity in Colonial South Asia: Parsi Legal Culture, 1772-1947 (Cambridge University Press, 2014) explores the legal culture of the Parsis or Zoroastrians of British India, an ethno-religious minority community that was unusually invested in colonial law. The book was awarded the Law and Society Association's J. Willard Hurst Prize for socio-legal history in 2015. Sharafi is now working on her second book project, "Fear of the False: Forensic Science in Colonial India." This project examines colonial anxieties about dissimulation, truth, and justice that were reflected in the work of experts like the Chemical Examiners, Imperial Serologist, Government Examiner of Questioned Documents, and Chief Inspector of Explosives.
Sharafi's research has been recognized and supported 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. She is an ACLS Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellow ’18 (National Humanities Center, 2020-1), a Davis Center Fellow (Princeton History Dept., fall 2018), and an H. I. Romnes Faculty Fellow (UW-Madison, 2018-23).
Her research interests include South Asian legal history; the history of the legal profession; colonialism; 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. She is also part of UW's Legal Studies program, an interdisciplinary undergraduate major that combines law with the humanities and social sciences. Sharafi has taught four Legal Studies courses: Legal Pluralism, Lawyers & Judges in the British Empire, Law and Colonialism, and History of Forensic Science. She is affiliated with the UW History Department and Center for South Asia. She was conference chair of the 44th and 45th Annual Conference on South Asia (2015, 2016).
Mitra Sharafi is an active member of the American Society for Legal History (ASLH) and the Law and Society Association (LSA). Since 2005, she has run the LSA’s South Asia Collaborative Research Network (CRN 22). Sharafi is an LSA trustee (2019-21). She has served on the ASLH’s Board of Directors and nominating committee, and has been program committee co-chair and chair of the Peter Gonville Stein Book Award for non-US legal history. She has also been faculty director of the J. Willard Hurst Summer Institute in Legal History.
Mitra Sharafi is a regular contributor to the Legal History Blog. Since 2010, her 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
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.
Heinz Klug is chairing the search-and-screen committee to find a new UW Law dean. Other committee members include: Michelle Behnke, Roman Gierok, Erica Halverson, Alexandra Huneeus, Richard Monette, Yaron Nili, Kim Peterson, Howard Schweber, Mitra Sharafi, Susannah Tahk, Janice Toliver, Kathryn VandenBosch, Steven Wright, and Jason Yackee.
Alexandra Huneeus, Mitra Sharafi and Nina Varsava were selected for honorary membership into the Order of the Coif, a scholastic society that encourages excellence in legal education. Sixteen recent UW Law graduates also received Order of the Coif honors for 2019.
Mitra Sharafi presented "South Asians and West Africans at the Inns of Court: Empire and Expulsion circa 1900" at the Georgetown Legal History Colloquium in September. The research comes from Sharafi's new book project, a global history of non-European students who came to London to study to become barristers between the mid-19th century and the mid-20th.
Mitra Sharafi's article, "The Imperial Serologist and Punitive Self-Harm: Bloodstains and Legal Pluralism in British India," was published in the book Global Forensic Cultures: Making Fact and Justice in the Modern Era in April.
In March, Mitra Sharafi gave a talk on her paper, "Truth, Adversarialism and Forensic Experts in the Indian Courtroom, 1879-1955," for Emory Law School's Spring 2019 Faculty Colloquium Series. The paper will become a chapter of her book project, "Fear of the False: Forensic Science in Colonial India."
Mitra Sharafi presented "Abortion in South Asia, 1860-1947: A Medico-Legal History" at Stanford Law School in February. The talk was co-sponsored by the Stanford Center for Law and History, the Department of History, and Center for South Asia.
Mitra Sharafi received the 2019 Postdoctoral Mentoring Award from the UW Postdoctoral Association in January. Elizabeth Lhost, the A. W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the UW Institute for Research in the Humanities, nominated Sharafi for the award.
Mitra Sharafi presented "Forensic Experts in Colonial India: Handwriting Analysis as a Suspect Science" at the Legal History Forum at Yale Law School in December. The paper is a draft chapter from Sharafi's book project, "Fear of the False: Forensic Science in Colonial India."
Mitra Sharafi has been awarded a Mellon Fellowship for Assistant Professors at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton for the 2011-12 academic year. Sharafi will use the fellowship to begin work on a project on medical jurisprudence in colonial India.
Mitra Sharafi's book manuscript, "Parsi Legal History in British India," will be the focus of the UW Center for the Humanities First Book Project for 2011. A group of inside and outside readers will meet to discuss the manuscript during the spring 2011 semester.
Mitra Sharafi published an article titled "The Marital Patchwork of Colonial South Asia: Forum Shopping from Britain to Baroda" in a special forum issue of Law and History Review, a leading legal history journal. The special three-article forum, edited by Elizabeth Kolsky and with comment from Sally Engle Merry, is the product of the Law and Society Association International Research Collaborative on South Asian Legal History that Sharafi organized.
Mitra Sharafi was interviewed on Greek radio in 2010. “The Voice of Greece” on the Athens-based ERT Network featured a bilingual show in English and Greek on the Zoroastrian religion (Sharafi's research area) and the history of Persian-Greek rivalry.
News & Media
Tuesday, Apr 21, 2020Mitra Sharafi: Pandemic or poison? How epidemics shaped Southasia's legal history
Wednesday, Sep 4, 2019To anticipate the future of forensic science, Mitra Sharafi looks at the British Empire's past
Monday, Nov 12, 2018Mitra Sharafi reflects on the history of poison as a weapon
Sunday, Jul 8, 2018A Q&A with Mitra Sharafi
American Historical Association News
Monday, Feb 12, 2018A Q&A with Mitra Sharafi on her book 'Law and Identity in South Asia: Parsi Legal Culture, 1772-1947'
Thursday, Sep 28, 2017Mitra Sharafi examines history of gender bias in Parsi matrimonial law
The Times of India
Tuesday, Jul 5, 2016Mitra Sharafi: Early American settlers not the colonized, but the colonizers
Thursday, Sep 24, 2015Mitra Sharafi: Parsi matrimonial courts are India's only surviving jury trials
Monday, Jul 6, 2015Mitra Sharafi: Snoop Dogg feels the bite of Parsi legal culture
Monday, Feb 16, 2015Mitra Sharafi: Minority lawyers can help safeguard their civil rights
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013Mitra Sharafi discusses Delhi gang rape case