Nandini Das, a professor of early modern literature and culture at the University of Oxford, has been awarded the 2023 British Academy Book Prize for Cultural Understanding for her book Courting India: England, Mughal India and the Origins of Empire. The book offers a fresh perspective on Sir Thomas Roe’s 17th-century mission to India, shedding light on the early interactions between England and Mughal India.
Das’s work was celebrated for its ability to move beyond the Eurocentric narrative, providing an even-handed and entertaining account of the historical events. The prize, which comes with a £25,000 (US$30,322) purse, was presented at a ceremony in London.
The jury chair, Charles Tripp, praised Das for her use of contemporary sources from both Indian and British perspectives, highlighting the immediacy of the early encounters and the challenges they faced. He emphasised how the book revealed the value of international diplomacy while navigating cultural minefields, echoing issues still relevant today.
Julia Black, the British Academy’s president, stressed the importance of well-researched books in promoting global cultural understanding, particularly in today’s world where such understanding is increasingly vital.
This marks the 11th year of the British Academy’s celebration of books that enhance global cultural awareness. The recognition of Das’s work and the impact it may have on cross-cultural understanding exemplify the significance of literature in bridging gaps between different societies and histories.