EMSAH Seminar | The First Firangis: Identity, Race and a bit of Star Trek - A Postgraduate Seminar
Professor Jonathan Gil Harris
Friday 13 June 2014, 12pm - 2pm
Room 601, Michie Building (#9)
University of Queensland, St Lucia
RSVP: Stormy Wehi, firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com.
Light refreshments will be served after the workshop.