Professor Nandini Das, University of Liverpool


Britain’s relationship with the Middle East and South Asia is a subject of long-standing scrutiny and public interest. Yet our knowledge of the crucial initial phases of contact remains patchy and incomplete. The proposed project will make available for the first time an edition of texts that can enhance our understanding of those elusive early years. It will establish the importance of these strategically significant parts of the world as improvisational ‘contact zones’, before the establishment of subsequent, often highly asymmetrical, colonial and imperial relationships.


The edition will be published by Oxford University Press as volume 6 of the complete edition of Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation (1598-1600). Hakluyt is arguably the single most important figure in the history of English travel writing, and his Principal Navigations, the most important English collection of such accounts. First printed in 1589, the hugely expanded second edition (1598-1600) runs to approximately 1,760,000 words. Standard recommended reading onboard trading ships at the time, it also exerted enormous influence on the English imagination. It has long been recognised for its role in defining English national identity at a crucial period of global expansion. Its set of texts on the Middle East and South Asia offer a comprehensive and fascinating range of largely unexamined material. They contain some of the earliest documents about Anglo-Ottoman trade, the pre-history of the East India Company, and glimpses into early English perception of these nations. Their significance lies also in the fact that English dealings with these parts of the ‘Old World’ often formed the template for international negotiations elsewhere.


Despite its impact, Hakluyt’s collection is a much overlooked resource. Some of its texts have fared better than others. Individual extracts appear scattered in anthologies (e.g. Andrew Hadfield’s Amazons, Savages and Machiavels, 2001), and the American voyages in particular have attracted understandable attention (e.g. Peter Mancall’s Hakluyt’s Promise, 2007). However, no scholarly annotated editions of the Middle Eastern and South Asian material in The Principal Navigations are available. There are two 19th century complete editions (Woodfall for Robert Harding Evans, 1809-12; Goldsmid, 1884-90). Two more versions appeared in the 20th century (MacLehose & Sons, 1903-5; abridged by Everyman/Dent/Dutton, 1907, repr. 1927). None of these is satisfactory by current standards of editing; none is currently in print.


This project will produce the first critical edition of the accounts of English travels to the Middle East and South Asia in the Principal Navigations. It will bring together all that is known about the documents’ cultural, historical and material contexts, and provide full annotation of places, routes, local inhabitants, maritime terminology and biographical details. As part of the standard library edition of Hakluyt’s text, the volume will be a lasting, accessible resource for Hakluyt scholars, cultural historians, geographers, literary scholars and students world-wide. The regional focus will also attract scholars interested in Middle Eastern, South Asian and postcolonial studies, as well as general readers interested in exploration and colonial history.


More broadly, this research will enhance our knowledge of the intellectual and practical networks that shaped early English interaction with these regions. A further aim is to encourage new research into the movement of information among European and non-European cultures in the period. This will contribute to a research network currently being established by relevant volume editors of the Hakluyt edition. A final aim is to stimulate new understanding of English engagement with these regions in the wider public domain, through planned activities with a number of public institutions.


Professor Nandini Das

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