Professor Jonathan Gil Harris

Friday 13 June 2014, 12pm - 2pm
Room 601, Michie Building (#9)
University of Queensland, St Lucia
RSVP: Stormy Wehi, by 10th June 2014

Professor Gil Harris will talk with students about the book he is currently writing – The First Firangis: Becoming Indian Before the British Raj (to be published by Aleph Books in 2015) – and the experience of writing it for a general audience.

The First Firangis tells the story of poor European travellers to India in the seventeenth century – servants, soldiers, masterless men – who to lesser and greater extents became Indian, and whose elusive lives suggest the outlines of alternative Indo-European histories that potentially unsettle modern conceptions of bodies, race, and foreignness. These men were referred to as Firangi, a term broadly synonymous with the Hindi videshi (alien) and pardesi (outsider). But these two Hindi words are also a world away, quite literally, from firangi, a Mughal-era Persian loan word from the Arabic farenji, meaning “Frank” or Frenchman – specifically a Crusader. A variant form should be familiar to aficionados of Hobson-Jobson and British Raj literature, in which “feringhee” is a common Indian term of abuse for white colonists.

Another form will ring bells for fans of Star Trek, in which the “Ferengi” are a race of unscrupulous intergalactic traders. From pre-colonial military culture to modern rural culture, the name “Firangi” is associated with foreignness, but it also signals one’s place – liminal or criminal though it may be – within a specifically Indian community.

As Professor Harris will discuss, its referent is far from self-evident; indeed firangi doesn’t so much describe a specific ethnic or religious identity as it troubles the very idea of identity itself.

This event is open to postgraduate and honours students and postcompletion fellows, please RSVP to

Light refreshments will be served after the workshop.

EMSAH Seminar | The First Firangis: Identity, Race and a bit of Star Trek - A Postgraduate Seminar