While literary histories, first written in the colonial-nationalist period, have drawn firm boundaries around languages, scripts, and literary tastes, a multilingual approach to literary history provides a more plausible, layered, and nuanced picture of literary culture in the early modern period. A geographical perspective and a sensitivity to linguistic registers and “traces” of other languages within texts, and to the popularity and circulation of genres and people, are particularly useful for highlighting interrelationships but also literary forms and sensibilities that single-language archives have obscured. In this talk, the speaker applies this multilingual approach to a region, Awadh (roughly from the 15c to the 18c), that was long at the centre of the North Indian Sultanates and later of the Mughal empire, but also continuously contested between Sufi- and Persian-dominated qasbas and “recalcitrant zamindars” in the countryside. As both got drawn into the networks of Mughal administration, how did linguistic choices and literary tastes evolve?
Prof. Francesca Orsini is Professor of Hindi and South Asian Literature. Her PhD research at SOAS was on the Hindi public sphere of the 1920s and 1930s, published as The Hindi Public Sphere 1920-1940: Language and Literature in the Age of Nationalism (2002, Hindi tr. Vani 2010). She taught at the University of Cambridge for several years and joined SOAS in 2006, where she teaches courses on Hindi language, literature, the literary history of South Asia, and contemporary politics of culture. Her most recent book, Print and Pleasure (2010), explored the genres of commercial publishing in nineteenth-century north India, while the collection she edited on Hindi and Urdu Before the Divide (2009) proposed ways of approaching Hindi and Urdu literary genres not as watertight traditions but as possibilities within the multilingual literary and linguistic world of early modern North India. Between 2006 and 2009 she ran a research project on "North Indian Literary Culture and History, 1450-1650", funded by the AHRC. The project sought to rethink the history of north Indian literature from a sustained multilingual perspective, and included a series of seminars, workshops, and 3 annual conferences. Two volumes of proceedings are going to be published: After Timur Left (co-edited with Samira Sheikh, forthcoming from OUP New Delhi in August 2014) surveys political formations and cultural production and circulation in fifteenth-century North India. Tellings and Texts (co-edited with Katherine Schofield, Open Book Publishers) contains essays on music, story-telling and performance in Persian, Braj Bhasha, Hindavi, Bengali and Newari. It seeks to make an argument about the interconnectedness and complexity of north Indian performance traditions and their importance to the understanding of cultural, social and political history.