Book Launch: The Scattered Court by Richard David Williams

Key information

5:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Khalili Lecture Theatre

About this event

Presents a new history of how Hindustani court music responded to the political transitions of the nineteenth century.

How far did colonialism transform north Indian music? In the period between the Mughal empire and the British Raj, how did the political landscape bleed into aesthetics, music, dance, and poetry?

Examining musical culture through a diverse and multilingual archive, primarily using sources in Urdu, Bengali, and Hindi that have not been translated or critically examined before, The Scattered Court challenges our assumptions about the period. Richard David Williams presents a long history of interactions between northern India and Bengal, with a core focus on the two courts of Wajid Ali Shah (1822–1887), the last ruler of the kingdom of Awadh.

He charts the movement of musicians and dancers between the two courts in Lucknow and Matiyaburj, as well as the transregional circulation of intellectual traditions and musical genres, and demonstrates the importance of the exile period for the rise of Calcutta as a celebrated center of Hindustani classical music. Since Lucknow is associated with late Mughal or Nawabi society and Calcutta with colonial modernity, examining the relationship between the two cities sheds light on forms of continuity and transition over the nineteenth century, as artists and their patrons navigated political ruptures and social transformations. 

The Scattered Court challenges the existing historiography of Hindustani music and Indian culture under colonialism by arguing that our focus on Anglophone sources and modernizing impulses has directed us away from the aesthetic subtleties, historical continuities, and emotional dimensions of nineteenth-century music.

Dr Williams will be joined by a panel of discussants, featuring Dr Katherine Schofield (King's College London), Prof Francesca Orsini (SOAS) and Dr Samia Khatun (SOAS).