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Robert Travers Travers

Associate Professor

Office: 345 McGraw Hall
Phone: (607) 255-5040
Fax: (607) 255-0469

Office Hours: By appointment

Research and Teaching Interests

I am a historian of Britain and the British empire with a particular focus on history of the British empire in India. My teaching ranges broadly across British, European, South Asian and Global history from the early modern to the modern eras, and reflects my interests in the political history of empires, the history of political and economic ideas, and the history of global interconnections. I love teaching at Cornell! In both my lecture courses and seminars I encourage students to participate actively in class discussions, and invariably find that Cornell students bring an exciting range of experiences, opinions and questions into the classroom.

My academic research has focused mainly on the British empire in India in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and tries to understand the political, social and cultural foundations of imperial power. My book, Ideology and Empire in Eighteenth Century India, examined the political thought of the first generation of British empire-builders in India. It showed how British officials of the English East India Company tried to legitimize their conquests by appropriating forms and styles of rule from the Mughal empire, the Muslim empire which governed large parts of India before the era of British expansion. My research has continued to focus on early modern encounters between European empires and South Asian forms of rule. I am especially interested in how the legacy of Mughal or Indo-Persian modes of imperial politics interacted with British empire-building in India. My current book project, titled ‘An Empire of Complaints. Indian Petitioning and the Making of the British Empire in India’, used English and Persian language sources to explore how everyday encounters between Indian petitioners and British officials shaped the practice of modern colonial rule.

A second ongoing research project focuses on forms of ‘Eurasian cosmopolitanism’ and cultural exchange generated on the moving frontiers of European empires. In a recent essay I have examined the career of a notable Eurasian cosmopolitan, Haji Mustapha d. 1791, who served both the French and British empires in India as a ‘go-between’ and knowledge broker. Recent published essays have also focused on questions of imperial political economy, diplomacy and treaty-making, and imperial law. 


For more information and links to current courses, go to: History's Courses Page

Courses Taught at Cornell

Survey (Lecture) Courses:
History 1511: Introduction to Western Civilization (Modern)
History 2749: Mughal India and the Early Modern World, c. 1500-1800
History 3100: British History, 1760-1870
History 3101: British History, 1870-present
History 3260: History of the Modern British Empire

History 4221: The British in India, 1750-1830


Ph.D. Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, 2001
B.A. Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, 1994

Recent Publications

‘The Connected Worlds of Haji Mustapha (c. 1730-1791); a Eurasian Cosmopolitan in Eighteenth Century Bengal’, Indian Economic and Social History Review 52, 3, 2015, pp. 1-37.

‘A British Empire by Treaty in Eighteenth Century India’, in Saliha Belmessous ed., Empire by Treaty. Negotiating European Expansion 1600-1900 (Oxford University Press, 2014), pp.132-160.

‘Constitutions, contact zones, and imperial ricochets: sovereignty and law in British Asia’, in H.V. Bowen, Elizabeth Mancke, and John G. Reid, eds., Britain’s Oceanic Empire. Atlantic and Indian Ocean Worlds c. 1550-1850 (Cambridge, 2012), pp. 98-129.

‘Imperial Revolutions and Global repercussions: South Asia and the World, c. 1750-1850’, in David Armitage and Sanjay Subrahmanyam eds., The Age of Revolutions in Global Context c. 1760-1840 (Palgrave MacMillan, 2010), pp. 144-66.

‘Contested Despotism: Problems of Liberty in British India’, in Jack P. Greene ed., Exclusionary Empire. English Liberty Overseas 1600-1900 (Cambridge, 2010), pp. 191-219.

‘British India as a Problem in Political-Economy: Comparing James Steuart and Adam Smith’, in Duncan Kelly ed., Lineages of Empire (British Academy, London, 2009), 137-160.


Robert and Helen Appel Fellowship, 2007
Junior Fellowship, Harvard Society of Fellows, 1999-2002
Milton Fund Grant, Harvard University, 2002