SOAS University of London

SOAS South Asia Institute

Mountstuart Elphinstone and the Historical Foundations of Afghanistan Studies: Reframing Colonial Knowledge of the Indo-Persian World in the Post-Colonial Era


Date: 6 November 2015Time: 8:30 AM

Finishes: 7 November 2015Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Room: See below for details

Type of Event: Conference


  • Friday, 6 November - Djam Lecture Theatre, SOAS, 08.30-14.30
  • Saturday, 7 November - British Library Conference Centre, 09.00-17.00

About the Conference

This conference examines the intellectual legacy of Mountstuart Elphinstone (1779-1859) whose career as a diplomat, administrator and scholar left a substantial and lasting impact on colonial fields of knowledge and governance in Afghanistan and British India. Elphinstone’s seminal Account of the Kingdom of Caubul (1815) established the framework for knowing and engaging Afghanistan, and his influential History of India (1841) built upon significant and highly transformative administrative tenures in Poona/Pune and Bombay/Mumbai.

The conference brings together eighteen junior and senior scholars representing a diverse range of historical and cultural specializations to explore Elphinstone’s career in its own right, in relation to the local populations he engaged, and in the context of wider communities of intellectuals and officials including such prestigious figures as John Malcolm and Charles Metcalfe. The individual papers represent both a tribute to the intellectual heritage of Elphinstone and his peers as well as a critical reflection on their enduring legacies and collective influence on the contemporary scholarship of Afghanistan, India, Iran and Pakistan.

SOAS will host the key-note address given by William Dalrymple, which will be based upon research for his Return of a King (2012).

Elphinstone Programme (pdf; 283kb)  .


William Dalrymple, Keynote Speaker

William Dalrymple FRSL, FRGS, FRAS (born William Hamilton-Dalrymple on 20 March 1965) is a Scottish historian and writer, art historian and curator, as well as a prominent broadcaster and critic.

His books have won numerous awards and prizes, including the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize, the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, the Sunday Times Young British Writer of the Year Award, the Hemingway, the Kapuściński and the Wolfson Prizes. He has been four times longlisted and once shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction. He is also one of the co-founders and co-directors of the annual Jaipur Literature Festival.

His most recent book, published in 2012, is The Return of a King: the First Battle for Afghanistan 1839–42, about the First Anglo-Afghan War.

Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, Keynote Discussant

Shah Mahmoud Hanifi is Professor of History, Middle East and South Asia, at James Madison University (US). He has published widely on the legacy of British empire in Afghanistan. His book Connecting Histories in Afghanistan (2011, Stanford University Press) describes the political economy of state mobility and state formation in Afghanistan over the nineteenth century. His doctoral thesis, Inter-regional Trade and Colonial State Formation in Nineteenth-century Afghanistan, (2002, Michigan) won the 2004 Gutenberg e-Prize from the American Historical Association.


The two-day conference is free and open to the public.

Organiser: Dr James Caron; Francesca Fuoli

Contact email:

Contact Tel: +44 (0)20 7898 4295

Sponsor: James Madison University; SOAS, University of London; Muslim South Asia Research Forum; American Institute of Afghanistan Studies; Council of American Overseas Research Centers