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Robert Travers

Associate Professor

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

Office Hours: Tuesday: 3:00-5:00, and by appointment

Research and Teaching Interests

I specialize in modern British history and the history of the British empire, with a particular focus on colonial India. My earlier research looked at how British officials of the English East India Company approached the government of vast Indian territories conquered in the middle decades of the eighteenth century. My book, Ideology and Empire in Eighteenth Century India, examined British ideas about restoring an ‘ancient constitution’ in India, apparently discovered among the remnants of the Mughal empire, and how this project floundered in the chaotic aftermath of colonial conquest.
In my new research I am continuing to work at the intersection of intellectual, political and imperial history, studying how new ideas about political life were generated through colonial encounters. My new work focuses more on issues of political economy, and how the early colonial regime in India addressed issues of famine, grain markets, land rights, the organization of textile production, money and banking. I am especially interested in the huge number of petitions from Indian subjects, claiming various kinds of rights, and how these claims were handled by the colonial government.

My teaching ranges broadly over British and European history, imperial history, and South Asian history from the eighteenth century to the present, and reflects my interests in political thought, political-economy, global and comparative history, and the history of ‘globalization’. I am also planning new courses on the history of British economic theory in relation to imperialism, and on changing understandings of India in European political thought in the early modern period. In both my survey courses and seminars, I encourage students to participate actively in lectures and discussions, and invariably find that Cornell students bring an exciting range of experiences, opinions and questions into the classroom. My assignments are designed to encourage close-reading of primary sources, to allow students to develop their own historical interpretations and arguments, and also to let students pursue their own particular historical interests.


Fall 2015:
HIST 2749
Mughal India and the Early Modern World, c. 1500-1800
Spring 2016:
On Leave

Other Courses Taught at Cornell

Survey (Lecture) Courses:
History 1511: Introduction to Western Civilization (Modern)
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 and Awards


Ideology and Empire in Eighteenth Century India: the British in Bengal 1757-93 (Cambridge, 2007)

Articles and Book Chapters:

‘Contested Despotism: Problems of Liberty in British India’, in Jack P. Greene ed., Exclusionary Empire: English Liberty Overseas 1600-1900 (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2009)

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

‘Death and the Nabob: Imperialism and Commemoration in Eighteenth Century India’, Past and Present, Number 196, August 2007

‘Eighteenth Century India; a review essay’, Eighteenth Century Studies, 40, 3, 2007
‘Ideology and British Expansion in Bengal’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 33, 1, January 2005, pp. 7-27.

 “‘The Real Value of the Lands’. The British, the Nawabs, and the Land Tax in Bengal”, Modern Asian Studies, 38, 3, 2004, pp. 517-558.


Robert and Helen Appel Fellowship, 2007

Junior Fellowship, Harvard Society of Fellows, 1999-2002

Milton Fund Grant, Harvard University, 2002