I grew up in Kolkata, India, where I studied English Literature at Jadavpur University, before coming to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar (University College), followed by a MPhil and doctorate at Trinity College, Cambridge. After working for a year as a software programmer in the publishing industry, I returned to academic research, working initially on Renaissance romance and fiction, and then increasingly on travel and cross-cultural encounters. I was Professor of English Literature at the University of Liverpool until October 2019, when I became a fellow in English at Exeter College, and Professor of Early Modern Literature and Culture in the English Faculty at Oxford.
My main research interests are twofold. Early modern romance in prose fiction and drama is the first of these, and forms the focus of a number of publications, including Robert Greene’s Planetomachia (2007), Renaissance Romance: The Transformation of English Prose Fiction, 1570-1620 (2011), and Enchantment and Dis-enchantment in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama (2017, co-edited with Nick Davis). The work I do in this field is situated very much within wider research interests in early modern cultural and intellectual history, editing theory and history of the book, as well as popular culture and the visual arts.
My second area of interest is in early modern travel, cross-cultural encounters, and the development and negotiation of racial and national identities. My focus here is on European narratives of cross-cultural encounters across the globe, but I have a particular interest in early English contact with the Indian sub-continent and the Middle East. I am the volume editor of Elizabethan Levant Trade and South Asia in the forthcoming edition of Richard Hakluyt’s monumental collection of English travel accounts, The Principal Navigations, to be published by Oxford University Press. More generally, with Tim Youngs, I have co-edited The Cambridge History of Travel Writing (2019), which covers global Anglophone and non-Anglophone travel writing from antiquity to the internet, and we are also joint series editors of the Cambridge Elements in Travel Writing monograph series.
Most of my writing time currently is spent on finishing a book about the first English embassy to India by Sir Thomas Roe in 1615. Along with this, I am working on another book called Common Places: Travel and Cultural Memory in Renaissance England, which focuses on the ways in which both individual and collective memory helped to shape English cross-cultural encounters in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
My other research interests, in heritage and urbanisation in India, and in digital humanities, collectively draw on a number of different fields, from cultural studies, to recent developments in information technology.
My research has been supported by the European Research Council, the AHRC, the Leverhulme Trust, and the Renaissance Society of America, and I particularly enjoy collaborative, interdisciplinary work where multiple, multi-lingual conversations can come together to make a whole that is often significantly greater than its parts. Two projects that have helped me to explore that approach include the UK-India Government (UKIERI) funded ‘Envisioning the Indian City’ project (http://eticproject.wordpress.com), and my current ‘Travel, Transculturality and Identity in Early Modern England’ (TIDE) project, funded by the European Research Council (www.tideproject.uk).
Over the years, I have taught both major canonical early modern authors (from Shakespeare, Sidney, and Spenser, to Jonson, Donne, and Milton), as well as less-explored ones, from Joseph Hall’s 1605 prose fiction, Mundus alter et idem (Another World and Yet the Same), with its satirical voyage to the imaginary land of Crapulia, to plays written in the 1580s about rent inflation in London. At Oxford, my teaching will cover papers on English literature and its contexts from 1500 to 1760, and graduate teaching in early modern literature.
I particularly enjoy being able to share new, emergent research with students, and thinking through ideas and evidence with them. So, for example, students working with me over the next few years may often work very closely with the TIDE research team, exploring the influence of mobility and contact – particularly involving non-European nations – on the English imagination, in thinking about a period that is still defined largely in terms of European cross-currents.
I am currently supervising doctoral work that ranges from the commedia dell’arte in English cultural imagination, and representations of Mughal women in early modern literature, to digital humanities-based analysis of the intellectual and professional networks behind Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations (1589; 1599-1600). I would be happy to hear from any potential students interested in pursuing research in any of my areas of specialism.
Media and Other Work
As a BBC New Generation Thinker, I regularly present television and radio programmes, many of which you will find here: https://bbc.in/2Kpq6ts. I am also a long term member of the Peer Review College of the Arts and Humanities Research Council UK (AHRC), and a member of the Council of Research England. Some recent work that I have undertaken in collaboration with the Runnymede Trust on the teaching of migration, identity, belonging, and empire in schools produced a Parliamentary Policy Advisory Report.