Space, Language, and Genre: for a Multilingual Literary History of Awadh


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  • Speaker: Francesca Orsini, University of London
  • Host Department: india
  • Date: 04/02/2014
  • Time: 4:00PM

  • Location: 1644 School of Social Work Building

  • Description:

    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, I start applying 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?

    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 '30s, published as The Hindi Public Sphere 1920-1940: Language and Literature in the Age of Nationalism (OUP Delhi 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.

    Professor Orsini's research interests span modern and contemporary Hindi literature; popular literature in Hindi and Urdu such as detective novels, romantic fiction, and barahmasas;  women writers and women's journals; book history and nineteenth-century commercial publishing in Hindi and Urdu; the multiligual history of literature in early modern North India. She has organized several workshops and conferences, including one on Love in South Asia (CUP 2006).

    Her most recent book, Print and Pleasure (Permanent Black 2010), explored the genres of commercial publishing in nineteenth-century north India, while the collection she edited on Hindi and Urdu Before the Divide (Orient Blackswan 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 2014) surveys political formations and cultural production and circulation in fifteenth-century North India. Tellings and Texts (co-edited with Katherine Schofield) contains essays on music, story-telling and performance in Persian, Braj Bhasha, Hindavi, Bengali, Newari, etc. and 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.

    At present she is working on two projects: an international collaboration with SARAI/CSDS (New Delhi) on Hinglish, funded by the British Academy; and a new project on a multilingual history of Awadh that seeks at the same time to engage with current models of world literature by offering a ground-up perspective that is mindful of local audiences and of multiple levels of literary production and circulation. In 2013-2014 she is a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.