SOAS University of London

Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies (CCLPS)

Simon Leese

BA (SOAS, University of London) MPhil (University of Oxford)
  • Overview
  • Research


Leese Simon - CCLPS IMG - 240 186  56
Simon Leese
Email address:
Thesis title:
(Re)producing Arabic Literature in 18th and 19th Century North India
Internal Supervisors


After completing a BA in Arabic at SOAS, with courses in Hindi literature, I worked for several years in translation and TV production. I then returned to study, doing an MPhil in Islamic Studies and History at Oxford, where I focused on Arabic literature, the history of medieval education, and Persian language. I wrote my MPhil thesis on Ibn Qutayba and 9th century Arabic historiography. I am now pursuing my PhD research back at SOAS, supported by the Wolfson Foundation.

PhD Research

Arabic literary writing and printing is an important but largely neglected part of Indian cultural history. Likewise, being on the Arabic ‘periphery’, India is almost always overlooked in histories of Arabic literature. As a two-pronged intervention to these two fields, my research focuses on Arabic poetry and poetic anthologies produced in North India in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the different ways in which these cultural productions responded to and reconstituted the Arabic canon as seen from the region. I am interested in how writers used different forms of translation and intertextuality to reproduce and reinterpret themes and motifs that had featured in some of the very earliest Arabic poetry. By looking at where these questions of aesthetics intersect with social contexts of literary production, I examine how Arabic scholars and connoisseurs in North India drew on the idioms of Arabic poetry to articulate their relationship to the past, and their relationships with others scholars in both local and wider transregional networks. These networks, which linked Indian readers and writers with Yemen, the Hijaz, Egypt, Iraq and Constantinople, connected individuals who maintained and articulated their relationships with each other through Arabic letter writing, joint printing ventures, and other manifestations of literary sociability. By analysing how these writers conceived of and represented spatial distances between their different localities, as well as the temporal distance between themselves and canonical writers of the past, I want to take an approach to Arabic literary history and canon formation that is grounded in social contexts and that challenges assumptions of what is ‘central’ and ‘peripheral’.

My research also considers how Arabic was part of a more complex multilingual literary system in the North Indian milieu; many of the texts I work on were themselves multilingual, sometimes with Arabic, Persian and Urdu all appearing on the same page. I also have a keen interest in questions of book history and material forms of cultural production, and am particularly fascinated by how manuscript culture in North India persisted throughout the 19th century alongside printing technologies.


Talks and Conference Papers

-  ‘Producing and Reproducing Authorship: the technologies and poetics of Arabic book production in late-19th century Bhopal.’ Paper presented at 33rd Deutscher Orientalistentag, Jena, 19th September 2017.

-  ‘Visions of the Arabic Hejaz: Memory and the Poetics of Devotion in 18th and 19th century North India.’ Invited talk as part of British Library South Asia Series, 12th June 2017.

-  ‘Bhopal in Geographies of Arabic Knowledge Production in the 19th century.’ Paper presented at British Association of South Asian Studies Annual Conference, 19th-21st April 2017.

-  ‘Correspondence as Communion: Transregional Arabic Letter Writing in the 19th century.’ Paper presented at SOAS Near and Middle East Graduate Conference: Connectivities over Space and Time, 24th February 2017.

-  ‘Who is Suʿād?: Translating Arabic Love and Devotion in 19th Century North India.’ Paper presented at 24th European Conference on South Asian Studies (ECSAS), University of Warsaw, 29th July 2016.

-  ‘Of Departures and Homecomings: Reading Bānat Suʿād through Arabic, Persian, and Urdu in 18th Century North India.’ Paper presented at MULOSIGE ERC-funded workshop: Multilingual Locals and Significant Geographies before Colonialism, SOAS, University of London, 18th June 2016.

-  ‘Publishing Paratexts: Taqārīẓ, Authorship, and Literary Networks between India and Constantinople.’ Paper presented at SOAS CCLPS Graduate Conference: Book History Beyond the Book in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, SOAS, University of London, 13th June 2016.

-  ‘Itineraries through a Garden of Delights: Imagining India and the Arabic Canon in al-Shirwānī’s Ḥadīqat al-afrāḥ li-izālat al-atrāḥ.’ Paper presented at the 12th International Conference on Early Modern Literatures in North India (ICEMLNI), University of Lausanne, 17th July 2015.

-  ‘The Boundaries of Arabic Eloquence in Early 19th Century India: Problematising Space and Cosmopolitanism in Literary History.’ Paper presented at LINKS Graduate Student Conference, SOAS, 6th June 2015.

Conference organisation

-  Panel organiser: Arabic in South Asia: a language in/of the margins? 25th European Conference on South Asian Studies (ECSAS), Paris, July 2018.

-  Panel organiser: The kaleidoscope of memory and spatial imagination in Bhopal. British Association of South Asian Studies Annual Conference, 19th-21st April 2017.

-  Conference organiser: Book History Beyond the Book in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. CCLPS graduate conference, SOAS, University of London, 13th June 2016.


Member of the European Association for South Asian Studies


Arabic literature, North Indian literary history, book history, cultural studies, translation studies