‘Courting India: England, Mughal India and the Origins of Empire’ by Nandini Das has been named the winner of the the British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding – a £25,000 prize that celebrates ground-breaking, research-based works of non-fiction that have made an outstanding contribution to the public understanding of world cultures and the ways in which they interconnect.
The Kolkata-born Professor in the English faculty at the University of Oxford has been awarded for a “remarkable debut” which presents an important new perspective on the origins of empire through the story of the arrival of the first English ambassador in India, Sir Thomas Roe, in the early 17th century. The book recasts the story of Britain and India moving us beyond a Eurocentric telling, with an even-handed, entertaining tale of the encounter of two cultures and the ambitions, misunderstandings and prejudices that came to the fore. In this genuinely ground-breaking work, Indian-raised Das challenges our understanding of this pivotal pre-colonial period. Drawing on a rich variety of sources – literature, the memoirs of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, the journals and correspondence of Sir Thomas Roe, plus the archives of the East India Company – Das invites the reader to get to grips with the making of history, and its narration from both perspectives.
Professor Charles Tripp, chair of the jury panel, said: “Nandini Das has written the true origin story of Britain and India. By using contemporary sources by Indian and by British political figures, officials and merchants she has given the story an unparalleled immediacy that brings to life these early encounters and the misunderstandings that sometimes threatened to wreck the whole endeavour.
“At the same time, she grants us a privileged vantage point from which we can appreciate how a measure of mutual understanding did begin to emerge, even though it was vulnerable to the ups and downs of Mughal politics and to the restless ambitions of the British.
MORE LIKE THIS…
“Through her beautiful writing and exceptional research, the jury was drawn to the contrast between an impoverished, insecure Britain and the flourishing, confident Mughal Empire and the often-amusing, sometimes querulous exchanges between their various representatives. Moreover, we were reminded through this story of the first ambassadorial mission of the value of international diplomacy, but also of the cultural minefields that surround it in ways that still have resonance today.”
While Das receives £25,000 for winning the prize, each of the shortlisted writers will receive £1,000.
Professor Julia Black, President of the British Academy, added: “On behalf of the British Academy, it is my honour to congratulate Nandini Das on this exceptional work. “This is British Academy’s 11th year of celebrating well-researched books that improve global cultural understanding. Every year, the need to understand each other across borders, boundaries and cultures seems ever more pressing. This year is no exception.
MORE LIKE THIS…
“The power of good writing and a well-told story in getting people to understand each other should not be underestimated. This book does just that, drawing on the best of the academic and the literary traditions to shed light on how we are today.”