On the Spot: Sanjay Subrahmanyam

‘History has taught me to be sceptical of facile explanations based on prejudice.’

Museo Egizio, Turin.

Why are you a historian of the early modern world?

It’s distant, yet close enough; familiar, yet not overly so.

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

To be sceptical of facile explanations based on prejudice or sanctimony.

Which history book has had greatest influence on you?

Ashin Das Gupta’s Indian Merchants and the Decline of Surat.

What book in your field should everyone read?

Carlo Ginzburg’s The Night Battles.

Which moment would you most like to go back to?

To hear Miles Davis live, with Coltrane and Cannonball, in 1958-59.

Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?

I’ll pick three: my teacher Dharma Kumar, Ashin Das Gupta and Jean Aubin.

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

Wes Montgomery; further back, the Mughal poet Faizi.

How many languages do you have? 

Tamil and Hindi (and Urdu); French, Portuguese, Italian and Spanish; some German; and reading competence in Persian and Dutch.

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