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Cornelius Beckers

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Phd project: "Through Pen and Paper: Ordering Knowledge and the Consolidation of Imperial Power in Early British India, c. 1750-1830"

My project will analyse how officials of the British East India Company (EIC) ordered and subsequently circulated knowledge about the cultural and literary history of the Indian subcontinent in their writings between the mid-1700s and the early decades of the 19th century. The period in question is crucial in the development of British imperial control in India, as it saw the transition of power from the declining Mughal Empire to the hybrid Company-State of the EIC in Bengal and elsewhere in India since 1765, which in turn was followed by increased control measures from the government in London in the following decades. Moreover, the project asks what kind of personal and institutional knowledge networks, such as the various learned societies and their respective members, emerged during the period described above. In particular, I am interested in those EIC officials who were situated at the intersection of the colonial administration of the EIC, be it through bureaucracy or military affiliation, and the emerging orientalist scholarship on India which was in part promoted by the learned societies mentioned above.

By combining a history of knowledge approach with ideas from literary studies regarding form and affordances of different textual genres, this project aims to investigate how different genres transport forms of knowledge to varying audiences. With regards to the genres of texts, my research will mainly focus on poetry, which was the dominant literary genre in early British India, as well as historiographies of India written by EIC officials in order to investigate how literary and historiographic discourses offer different forms of knowledge to their respective audiences.