SOAS University of London

Francesca Orsini awarded €2.5 million grant to study world literature

28 October 2015
Francesca Orsini

Professor Francesca Orsini, Chair of the Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies (CCLPS), has been awarded an ERC advanced grant of €2.5 million to study world literature from the perspective of multilingual societies.

The sizable grant will be used to fund Professor Orsini’s current research project, titled ‘Multilingual Locals and Significant Geographies: For a New Approach to World Literature’, which will explore the numerous, often fractured, and non-overlapping worlds of literature.

These worlds will be explored through case studies in north India, the Maghreb (led by Dr Karima Laachir, SOAS), and the Horn of Africa, both chosen for their multiple precolonial written and oral traditions and different experiences of colonialism and nationalism. The project will focus on three periods: colonial consolidation, decolonisation, and the current globalising moment. It will study the local interplay of cultural traditions, local debates on world literature, old and new forms of multilingualism, and actors and technologies of print and orality.

Professor Orsini, who lectures on Hindi and South Asian Literature, said: “The aim is to counter the identification of world literature with English by highlighting the multilingualism and the many factors that contribute to regional and transnational literary fields. Instead of imitation and diffusion, we’ll seek to illuminate the dynamics of appropriation and creativity.

“The grant will allow us to undertake original research in written and oral traditions, begin sustained collaborations with and among scholars and writers-activists in our regions, and involve in our project scholars working on Anglophone and Francophone literatures in the UK and the rest of Europe. We’ll also seek to make an impact on ordinary readers with a blog that will suggest multilingual reading itineraries.

The project will run for 5 years and will include three post-doctoral fellowships, three PhD scholarships, funds for academic visitors as well as ‘critical friends’ who work on other examples of literary multilingualism. There will also be funds allocated for workshops in London, Europe, Morocco, Ethiopia, and India. The aim is to propose a theoretical approach, develop methods for multilingual training and research, and have strategic dialogues with scholars and writers from across SOAS’ regions of specialism as well as the UK and Europe.

The project will be hosted in the CCLPS and is in line with the Centre’s ambition to intervene in world debates and disciplines from the perspective of its areas of research.

This is the second ERC grant awarded to the Department of the Languages and Cultures of South Asia this year (Dr James Mallinson’s Traditions of Yoga), and the third awarded to a South Asianist at SOAS (Professor Edward Simpson’s Roads project).

ERC advanced grants are given to established scholars with an excellent track record of research and proven scholarly distinction. Professor Francesca Orsini earlier received an AHRC project grant to study the multilingual literary system of early modern north India (2006-9) and was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Studies at Harvard (2013-4).