I grew up in Kolkata and read English at Presidency College Kolkata, and at St. John’s College, Cambridge. I was a research fellow at St. John’s, and then at the British Academy. In 2012, I moved to King’s College London from a senior lectureship at Queen Mary, University of London.
Presently, I am completing a book provisionally titled India, Empire and the First World War: Words, Objects, Images, and Songs, under contract with Cambridge University Press. In 2009, I was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize and in 2014, a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship.
Research Interests and PhD Supervision
I work on early twentieth-century literature and culture, with a focus on the First World War. My first book Touch and Intimacy in First World War Literature (Cambridge, 2006), based on my doctoral thesis, recovered and analysed the sensuous world of the trenches and the war hospitals, and explored the relation between war experience, art and emotion. I have edited Race, Empire and First World War Writing (Cambridge, 2011) and The Cambridge Companion to the Poetry of the First World War (2013).
I have strong interests in early twentieth-century British literature; in theories of body, gender, sexuality and affect; and in the relationship between modernism and colonial/postcolonial cultures, with a particular focus on South Asia. I am very interested in poetry and in 2010, I gave the British Academy Chatterton lecture on the poetry of D.H. Lawrence. I have published in journals such as Modernism/Modernity, Textual Practice and Essays in Criticism.
For the last several years, I have been working on the cultural and literary history of South Asia and the First World War. This has involved extensive archival work, in India as well as across Europe. Given that many of the actual participants were non-literate, it forced me to go beyond the strictly literary and delve into the material, visual and oral legacies of the war. The work has now developed into three inter-related projects: a monograph titled India, Empire and the First World War: Words, Objects, Images and Songs, to be published by Cambridge University Press; a visual source-book Indians on the Western Front / L’Inde dans la Grande Guerre, les Cipayes sur le front de l'ouest(commissioned jointly by Gallimard and the French Ministry of Defence) which came out in November 2014; and a series of academic articles. In 2014, I also presented a series on ‘India and the First World War’ for BBC Radio 4 and wrote a few short pieces on the subject for the British Library website.
From 2013-16, I am leading a major collaborative research project on ‘Cultural Exchange in a Time of Global Conflict: Colonials, Neutrals and Belligerents in the First World War’ (CEGC) funded by Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA), with partners from academic and cultural institutions from across Europe (http://www.cegcproject.eu). A short documentary on the project was commissioned by the AHRC and will shortly be available on the project and AHRC website.
I am currently the primary supervisor for two PhD students and would love to hear from interested students. I welcome applications for PhD topics related to any of my research interests. For more details, please see my full research profile.
I convene or contribute to the following courses in early twentieth-century literature and culture, including:
- First World War Literature
- The Modernist Short Story
- 7AAEM520 Conflict: 20th Century War Literature
- 7AAEM609 Text Culture Theory: London and Urban Modernity 1850-1950
I am currently the Chair of the MA Examination Board.
Expertise and Public Engagement
Over the last several years, I have communicated my research to a wide audience, particularly on the colonial experience and literature of the First World War. This has been a fulfilling as well as occasionally a daunting task, given the sensitivities that continue to surround the topic for various groups and institutions.
In addition to various conferences and workshops, I have spoken at the Cheltenham Literary festival, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Library and the Imperial War Museum. In context of the centennial commemoration, I have also presented my work at various governmental and policy-making bodies, such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Westminster, the Ministry of Defence, the Indian High Commission in Paris and London, the European Parliament and the United Services Institute, Delhi.
My edited volume Race, Empire and the First World War Writing partly inspired the two-part BBC2 documentary Forgotten Soldiers of the Empire for which I was the advisor and a contributor. I have done a few things for the radio: I presented the Radio 4 series on ‘Soldiers of the Empire’’ directly based on my current research; one of the ‘Essay’ sessions for BBC3 on the Indian poet and politician Sarojini Naidu; and was the advisor and contributor to the BBC World Service programme on ‘India’s Forgotten War’. I have also been involved in several other First World War-related programmes on BBC 2, Discovery Channel, Australian Broadcasting Corporation and NDTV.
I occasionally write for the Guardian. I am one of the contributors to its website on ‘First World War: The Story of a Global Conflict’ as well as to the British Library website (Experiences of Colonial Troops and Reframing First World War Poetry). Some of my presentations are available online, on topics such as the censored letters of the Indian soldiers or British war literature.
As leader of the CEGC project, I have been involved in a number of project events, most recently a colloquium on ‘India and the First World War’, organised in conjunction with Dominiek Dendooven at the In Flanders Fields Museum (24-25 October, 2014). In November 2014, I co-organised (with Dr Kate McLoughlin) a two-day conference on ‘First World War: Literature, Culture, Modernity’ and a poetry reading evening at the British Academy as part of their ‘Landmark Conference’ series. As a prelude to the conference and part of the HERA project, we organised a concert at King’s College Chapel on 11 November, 2014, with readings, poetry and music from Europe and beyond.
I am the editor for the section on South Asia for the 1914-1918 online encyclopedia and a co-editor for the War Poetry Review.
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