On the Spot: Nandini Das

‘No historical record is an unmediated window into the past.’

Goa, India, c.1595. Plate from Jan Huyghen van Linschoten’s ‘Itinerario’. His books were written after returning to the Netherlands after a period in Goa, 1583-89. Wiki Commons/National Library, Singapore.

Why are you a historian of early modern travel?

I am intrigued by how we articulate what is familiar and what is strange, who belongs and who does not.

What’s the most important lesson history has taught you? 

That no historical record is an unmediated window into the past.

Which history book has had greatest influence on you?

Iris Origo’s The Merchant of Prato and Natalie Zemon Davis’ Trickster Travels: The Search for Leo Africanus.

What book in your field should everyone read?

Sanjay Subrahmanyam’s Three Ways to be Alien.

Which moment would you most like to go back to?

1583, when the first English merchant ship arrived in Goa.

Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?

Giambattista Vico.

Which person in history would you most like to have met? 

Thomas Coryate, the inveterate writer who walked across Europe and the Mughal Empire in the early 1600s.

How many languages do you have? 

I have a smattering of quite a few, but I wish I was fluent in many more.

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