School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

Professor Francesca Orsini

Key information

School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics Professor Emerita of Hindi and South Asian Literature SOAS South Asia Institute Member Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies Member Centre for the Study of Pakistan Member Centre of Jaina Studies Member
School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics
BA (Venice), PhD (London)
Email address


I am a literary historian working primarily with Hindi and Urdu materials and interested in exploring how multilingualism worked and continues to work within the literary cultures of South Asia. After a BA in Hindi from Venice University in Italy, I studied in Delhi at the Central Institute of Hindi and Jawaharlal Nehru University before coming to SOAS for my PhD. For my dissertation, I worked on the Hindi literary sphere of the 1920s and 1930s and the contrast between the ebullience of literary and social experimentation in journals, including women’s journals, and the canonization of “pure” Hindi and moral-patriotic Hindi literature in education (The Hindi Public Sphere, 2002, Hindi tr. 2010).

I then got interested in book history and worked on commercial publishing in Hindi and Urdu in the nineteenth century (Print and Pleasure, 2009), which interestingly saw a proliferation of “oral-literate” genres printed in both Hindi and Urdu scripts just as modern rigid language ideologies consolidated.

Back at SOAS after teaching for several years at Cambridge, I ran a research project on "North Indian Literary Culture and History" (funded by the AHRC) that sought to rethink the history of early modern north Indian literature from a sustained multilingual perspective. We began by reconsidering the fifteenth-century, the little-studied period before the Mughals (After Timur Left, co-edited with Samira Sheikh, 2014). Another focus was performance, songs and story-telling (Tellings and Texts, co-edited with Katherine Schofield 2015). But I am also interested in contemporary literature and popular culture, and a recent project (with Ravikant at SARAI/CSDS) explored the cultural and social dimensions of “Hinglish”, Hindi-English language mixing in media and everyday life.

Currently I am finishing a book on the multilingual literary history of Awadh from the 15c to the early-20c. I am also leading the project “Multilingual locals and significant geographies: for a new approach to world literature” (MULOSIGE, funded by the European Research Council), which seeks to propose an alternative, located and multilingual, approach to world literature, from the perspective of three regional sites – north India, the Maghreb, and the Horn of Africa – in the colonial and postcolonial periods and the contemporary globalizing moment.

I am interested in the worldliness of literature both as it inhabits and intervenes in the world, and also in the imaginative worlds literature creates. I am interested in supervising original projects on literature in South Asia that take up new questions, new materials or approaches, and in literary comparisons beyond India and Europe. There are few places in the world where such projects can be undertaken, and SOAS is one of them.

I am a fellow of the British Academy and member of Steering Committee of the British Comparative Literature Association and of the Institute of World Literature. In 2013-14 I was a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. I have also had visiting positions at Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Inaugural Lecture

Prof. Francesca Orsini Inaugural Lecture, Literature in a Multilingual Society

PhD Supervision

Name Title
Raahi Adhya The Fantastic World of the Bengali 'Roopkotha'—Gendering the Creation of a Popular Literary Genre in 19th and Early 20th Century Bengal (working title)
July Blalack Travel Inside and Outside: Maghribi Resistance as a Literary Force
Rasha Chatta Marginality and Individuation: A Theoretical Approach to Abla Farhoud and Arab Migrant Literature
Jack Clift Historical fiction and historical imagination in Hindi and Urdu literature
Miss Kanupriya Dhingra Daryaganj's Parallel Book History
Guanchen Lai Speaking from the village: modes of writing about the village in contemporary Hindi fiction
Ms Akanksha Mehta Negotiating Space on the 'Right': The everyday politics of Hindu Nationalist and Zionist settler women in India and Israel-Palestine
Hana Sandhu Rewriting the ‘failed state’: anticolonial imaginaries and epistemic violence in the Congo
Rakesh Sengupta An Archaeology of Screenwriting in Early Indian Cinema (1930s-1950s)
Florence Shahabi Sayyid Bahodine Majrouh: an intellectual biography
Maryam Sikander Upstart Punches: Humour and Satire in Urdu Literature


Contact Francesca