British Association for South Asian Studies

Research Groups

Early Modern South Asia

Convenors: Professor Christopher Minkowski and Professor Polly O’Hanlon


Recent research in the history of early modern South Asia has emphasized its remarkable commercial, political and cultural successes. By the middle of the seventeenth century the region had emerged as the world’s premiere exporter of craft manufactures. Externally, the Mughal imperial state had established itself as a major player in the exchanges between Asia’s emerging ‘universal’ empires, and within the region had devised a framework of rule effective in its ability to incorporate regional power-holders in return for support for their own local authority. The region was also home to an extraordinarily fertile linguistic and literary landscape, in which regional vernaculars flourished and in a complex interplay with the cosmopolitan languages of Persian and Sanskrit. Underpinning these changes and linking together the worlds of court and household, temple and lodge, market, manufactory and military camp, were developing networks of specialists - service and scribal people - who constituted a vital resource as much in the households of local elites as at the courts of imperial and regional states.

As its broad framework of enquiry, this project poses questions of social agency: of the roles of service communities with different skills and expertise in shaping South Asia’s political, commercial and cultural dynamism from the mid-sixteenth to the mid- eighteenth century. In the first instance, the project will focus on the intellectual, literary and instrumental skills of scribal people.


Christopher Minkowski, Boden Professor of Sanskrit
Faculty of Oriental Studies

Polly O’Hanlon, Professor of Indian History and Culture
Faculty of Oriental Studies

Imre Bangha, University Lecturer in Hindi
Faculty of Oriental Studies

David Washbrook, Senior Research Fellow in South Asian History
Trinity College


The project has sponsored a series of workshops and seminars in Oxford, each addressed to a particular aspect of the social history of early modern South Asia.

  • 'Ideas in Circulation', 25-26 May 2007
  • Bhattoji and Nagoji, Grammarians and Philosophers of Language in Early Modern Banaras, 29 February, 2008
  • 'Munshis, Pandits and Record-Keepers: Scribal Communities and Historical Change in India, c. 1500-1800', 13-14 June 2008
  • 'Religious Cultures in South Asia, c. 1500-1800', 5-6 June 2009
  •  'From the 'medieval' to the 'early modern': Sources, Concepts, Methodologies': June 11, 2010


The following are some of the publications associated with the project:

Rosalind O’Hanlon (ed), ‘Knowledges in circulation in early modern India’, Special Issue of Modern Asian Studies 44, 2 (March 2010)

Rosalind O’Hanlon and David Washbrook (eds), ‘Munshis, Pandits and Record Keepers: Scribal Communities and Historical Change in India’, Special Issue of The Indian Social and Economic History Review 47, 4 (October-December 2010)

Rosalind O’Hanlon and David Washbrook (eds), Religious Cultures in Early Modern India: New Perspectives. Routledge, 2011, first published as Special Issue of South Asian History and Culture, 2, No. 2, April 2011.


For futher information about the project, please visit this website:

Oxford Early Modern South Asia Project

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