2023 SHORTLIST

Nandini Das

Courting India: England, Mughal India and the Origins of Empire

When Thomas Roe arrived in India in 1616 as James I's first ambassador to the Mughal Empire, the English barely had a toehold in the subcontinent. Their understanding of South Asian trade and India was sketchy at best, and, to the Mughals, they were minor players on a very large stage. Roe was representing a kingdom that was beset by financial woes and deeply conflicted about its identity as a unified 'Great Britain' under the Stuart monarchy. Meanwhile, the court he entered in India was wealthy and cultured, its dominion widely considered to be one of the greatest and richest empires of the world.

In Nandini Das's history of Roe's four years in India, she offers an insider's view of a Britain in the making, a country whose imperial seeds were just being sown. It is a story of palace intrigue and scandal, lotteries and wagers that unfolds as global trade begins to stretch from Russia to Virginia, from West Africa to the Spice Islands of Indonesia.

A major debut that explores the art, literature, sights and sounds of Jacobean London and Imperial India, Courting India reveals Thomas Roe's time in the Mughal Empire to be a turning point in history – and offers a rich and radical challenge to our understanding of Britain and its early empire.

Nandini Das

Nandini Das
Nandini Das is Professor of Early Modern English Literature and Culture at Oxford University. She is a scholar of Renaissance literature, travel, migration, and cross-cultural encounters, and has published widely on these topics, from major sixteenth and seventeenth century authors like Philip Sidney, Shakespeare and Cervantes, to the fleeting presence of three Japanese boys in sixteenth century Portuguese-held Goa, India. Her Cambridge History of Travel Writing (2019), co-edited with Tim Youngs, covers global Anglophone and non-Anglophone travel writing from antiquity to the internet, while Keywords of Identity, Race, and Human Mobility in Early Modern England (2021) emerges from her major, long-term research project on the impact of travel and human mobility, both forced and voluntary, on fundamental ideas of identity and belonging. She regularly presents television and radio programmes on topics related to her research.