Bagchi’s work has a special focus on writers from – or entangled with – South Asia, from the 18th century to contemporary times. She investigates world literatures in English, particularly of those periods and genres that have been neglected in scholarship till recently – such as utopian and dystopian fiction from the Global South, narratives of women’s informal and formal education, and fiction in English by writers, especially women writers, from colonial and post-colonial South Asia.
The professor is perhaps best known globally for her work on Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, a feminist writer and educator who lived in early 20th century India. ‘Hossain never travelled outside India, and yet in her work she shows a remarkable level of engagement, interest and often solidarity with women suffering patriarchal oppression in many parts of the world, such as Britain and Afghanistan’, says Bagchi. ‘This is an interesting example of how cultures can be interwoven through literature, and how people interact with other parts of the world through texts.’
Bagchi’s current projects include research on ageing and women in South Asia, a project on transcultural utopia and its afterlives, and research on the resonances of Jane Austen’s fiction in colonial and postcolonial India.
I consider Jane Austen one of the cleverest and most generative writers that I have had the fortune to work on.
‘The work of Jane Austen has been one of my abiding interests’, says Bagchi. ‘I consider her one of the cleverest and most generative writers that I have had the fortune to work on. I am particularly interested in how Austen is interacted with by women writers in South Asia, from the 19th century onwards. People find parts of themselves in her, in her satire, her witty critique of society, and her ability to stand up for young women’s choices.’
The new chair World Literatures: English has been created to connect European with global literary and cultural studies. ‘English literature has been taught in places like Kolkata, India – where I am from originally – since the early 19th century’, says Bagchi. ‘English has been used by people in a whole variety of locations and by a diversity of voices. Studying world literature in English gives us an insight into how these people perceive the world.’
I want to show the powerful connections between contemporary world literature in English and the past.
The professor is looking forward to working with her new colleagues at the UvA. ‘I am very excited by the opportunity to work in this great team, and I look forward to dialoguing with scholars who work on the early modern period, the 18th and 19th centuries, and medieval times – and to having this kind of pluralism and diversity of methodologies, approaches and corpora. I have a very strong sense that the past is also part of our present, and I want to show the powerful connections between contemporary world literature in English and the past. These connections can be seen even today, for example in new films, graphic art, and in romantic novels.’
Barnita Bagchi obtained a BA in English Literature from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, an MA from the University of Oxford, and a PhD from the University of Cambridge. She worked at the Institute of Development Studies Kolkata in India, and was Associate Professor in Comparative Literature at Utrecht University for the past 14 years. Her key publications include The Politics of the (Im)possible: Utopia and Dystopia Reconsidered (2012), which is a standard and widely cited volume in utopian studies, and her co-edited volume Connecting Histories of Education: Transnational Exchanges and Cross-Cultural Transfers in (Post)colonial Education (2014). In addition to her academic work, Bagchi is also a translator of Bengali literature into English. At the UvA, she is affiliated to the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA).