Department of Music & School of Arts

Dr Richard Williams

Key information

Department of Music Senior Lecturer in Music and South Asian Studies Centre of Yoga Studies Member
Department of Music & School of Arts
BA (Oxford), MPhil (Oxford), PhD (London), FHEA
Russell Square: College Buildings
Telephone number
020 7898 4687
Support hours
Tuesdays, 10:00am–12:00pm


Richard David Williams is a cultural historian of music in South Asia. He is particularly interested in understanding how music and sound is explored in literature, and how colonialism reoriented early modern musical ideas and practices.

Having originally studied Theology and then Modern South Asian Studies at the University of Oxford, his research brings music and sound studies into conversation with the study of religion and Indian cultural history. He received his PhD from the Music Department at King’s College London, with a doctoral thesis on the impact of colonialism on Hindustani music in the nineteenth century. He was then awarded a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship at the University of Oxford (2015-17), where he worked on music and aesthetics in the eighteenth century within his project “Beyond the Local: Vernacular Aesthetics in Late Mughal North India”.

He is currently completing his first monograph, on the circulation of musicians, genres, and musicologists between upper India and Bengal between c.1750-1900. This book examines how musical societies negotiated the changing politics of a colonial landscape. In connection with this project, he has written on Bengali-language musicology, the performance repertoires of courtesans, and sound arts in Shi’ah Islam.

His second book project is a cultural history of Ragamala, the early-modern art of imagining musical sound through poetry and painting.

His wider work has explored musical culture in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century South Asia; the history of emotions; music in the theology and ritual of a Hindu sect, the Radhavallabh Sampraday; and music in Pakistani media and literature. His research languages are Hindi, Brajbhasha, Bengali, and Urdu.

Research interests

Richard David Williams’ research focuses on Hindustani classical music and popular devotional music in Hinduism. His work is particularly interested in the intersection of music and literature, and how sonic practices and musical repertoires circulate in multilingual settings. His research deploys a variety of approaches to explore a broad range of sources from early modern, colonial and contemporary South Asia.

He is currently completing his first book, The Scattered Court: Hindustani Music in Colonial Bengal, which examines how Hindustani music evolved under colonialism. The book reconstructs an interregional, multilingual conversation about the aesthetics of elite art music, and explores the movement of patrons, theorists, and musicians between Hindustan and Bengal. At its centre, the book provides a study of the court-in-exile of the last Nawab of Awadh, Wajid ‘Ali Shah, and the thirty years he spent in Calcutta (1856-1887) and traces the passage of musicians and musical practices from Lucknow to colonial Bengal.

His second book project focuses on Ragamala, the early modern practice of imagining musical sound through poetry and painting. In particular, the book considers the longer history of writings on music in Classical Hindi (Brajbhasha).

More broadly, he has also written on Bengali musicology and religious rituals, eighteenth-century religious history, scribal and translation practices, courtesan poets, popular music in Pakistan, Bengali migrants in colonial Burma, and the history of emotions.

PhD Supervision

Name Title
Arka Chakraborty The Reception History of Bob Dylan in Indian Popular Music
Tom Peterson Archives of Sri Lanka's Vocal Arts: The Lyrical Genres of the Nevill Collection as Refractions of Sri Lanka, Past and Present
Ruth Westoby Gendered constructs in Haṭha Yoga
Helen Anahita Wilson Indian Rhythm and Life Writing in Cross-Sensory Composition (Practice Research)


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