The History, Art and Architecture of the Mughal Empire

More than Half the Story

A fascinating (French and English) interview with Sanjay Subrahmanyam by Anne-Julie Etter and Thomas Grillot. From the interview:
On his current work with 17th century French materials:

Although there has been a certain amount of work done on Bernier, including a recent reedition of some of his writings, there is a set of questions concerning him that nobody has really broached. And behind him there is a bunch of people that nobody has touched at all in three hundred years! The person I am focusing on right now is François le Gouz de la Boullaye, a gentleman who, like Bernier, was of Angevin extraction and who arrived in India in the 1640s, returned to France, and then went back and died in India in 1668 or so. What I want to do with these French sources is to cross them with the Dutch and English sources on the French, so as to give them more depth. Eventually, I am interested in looking at how the French looked at the Mughals and the Mughals looked at the French – there are very few direct sources, but implicitly one can understand a certain number of things.

On conformity and marketing:

In a refereed article, you are often invited to cite “ten important books or articles” on the subject at the outset. But they are either often implicitly present in the argument, or irrelevant to it – so why cite them? It’s just a matter of doffing your hat to those authors – three of whom are probably your referees anyway. If this sort of pressure – what I think of as academic food processing – did not exist, we might have a lot more creative work, and a greater desire to play with both form and content in history writing.

On Textures of Time (2001):

If there is an interest outside India, I imagine it will come from regions where the issues are not so clear. It could be Southeast Asia or Africa, but also interestingly Persian historiography, which is not as secure in its self-perception as Arabic historiography. The issue of African historiography is a complicated one. The problem of Ethiopia or that of Mali is not the problem of Great Zimbabwe; there is also a line of influence there of Arabic-language historiography. A whole debate went on there, which began with Jan Vansina’s writings on oral tradition. However, in spite of the obvious differences between the African and Indian experiences, a lot of it became about how history is this object which was imported from the West along with colonization. This is the cliché, which we have had for at least two hundred years. If people want to re-examine this question, I think that going to some of the ideas developed in Textures of Time could be useful to them.

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