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Introducing: Neilabh Sinha

Neilabh Sinha was awarded a subsidy from NWO Promoties in de Geesteswetenschappen and started as a PhD candidate at the Institute for History in September. He introduces himself.

Although I only started as a PhD candidate in Leiden three months ago, I have been here for a few years and, therefore, I am not exactly new to the Huizinga complex. I came to Leiden in 2014 as part of the Cosmopolis (now Cosmopolis Advanced) programme of the Institute for History. The programme offered students from outside Europe a scholarship to learn Dutch, exploit the archives of the VOC, and earn a Cosmopolis BA. Naturally, it would have been absurd to turn down an opportunity to participate in a funded programme that required me to learn a new language. I deregistered at the University of Delhi, where I was doing an MA in History, packed up, and moved to Leiden.

It was during the Cosmopolis programme that I really began to use images to study history, which has been an integral part of my work and research ever since. However, my fascination for images and their relation to their historical contexts began with an internship at the Victoria Memorial, studying pre- and early colonial images of India by Europeans. My thesis for the programme studied images made by a Dutch predikant and a Flemish marine painter (I first ran into him at the Victoria Memorial) who found themselves in Batavia and Calcutta, respectively, at the end of the eighteenth century.

In 2015, I received a scholarship from Leiden for the Research MA in History. Over the next two years, I deepened my knowledge of scientific illustration and colonial ethnographic depictions, amongst other “epistemic images”. Exploiting the range of available courses, I moved between elephants in medieval chronicles, early Dutch ethnography in South Africa, Sino-Spanish cosmographies, and satire in early modern maps. My MA thesis focused on Anselmus de Boodt, a Flemish doctor who served Rudolf II in Prague, and whose albums of natural history drawings had recently been acquired by the Rijksmuseum. The diversity of representations in his albums allowed me to conduct an in-depth study of the close link between ideas about acquiring knowledge and ideas about representing it.

Since I was keen on continuing in Leiden, I applied for the NWO 'Promoties in de Geesteswetenschappen' funding  and was fortunate enough to receive funding for my PhD proposal. My research project is titled “Collecting Cultures: Netherlandish, Indic and Islamicate Images and Ideas in the Making of Indo-Persian Cosmopolitanism, 1550-1660”. Focusing on the Mughal Empire, I study how Persianised states that emerged in early modern India dealt with other cultures that they encountered. I use images and texts produced at the Mughal to examine aspects of local and foreign cultures that they adopted and to understand how they redeployed these. I am fascinated by the diversity of the world I study, which also inspires me to understand how it was sustained and represented. By being in Leiden, I hope to also draw inspiration from and cooperate with my colleagues and participate fully in the vibrant intellectual life of this university.

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