This course is devoted to the study of the ways in which the lands and peoples of India were encountered, observed and described by visitors from abroad over the sweep of the last two millennia. We will accordingly read excerpts from a large variety of travelers’ accounts of the Indian subcontinent, beginning with Ancient Greek, Roman, and Chinese writings on India. Then we will examine the descriptions of the first Arab conquest of Sindh and subsequent invasions, paying close attention to the accounts of travelers such as Ibn Battuta and al-Biruni. Next we will read from the narratives of visitors from Europe and West Asia, before ending with a few accounts of travelers in the opposite direction, from India to other parts of the world. As we tour these narratives, we will pay close attention to the literary construction of India as region, empire, or nation across the centuries. In particular we will focus on themes of commerce and religion; representations of political and social order; and on questions of exoticism, orientalism and the understanding of difference. Students will develop their skills in textual interpretation and historical analysis by writing regular response papers and a final independent research paper on a theme of their own choice.
Abhishek Kaicker is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History.