Robert Travers



Research and Teaching Interests

I am a historian of the British empire with a particular focus on history of the British empire in India. I am the author of two books about the growth and consolidation of a British-ruled territorial empire in eastern India in the late eighteenth century. I am broadly interested in the political, cultural, legal and economic history of early modern empires, and especially in encounters between British and South Asian forms of political life. I teach courses on the history of British imperialism, the history of South Asia from the Mughal empire to the colonial era, and the history of global interconnections in the early modern period.

My first book, Ideology and Empire in Eighteenth Century India: the British in Bengal, 1757-1793, 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 recent book, Empires of Complaints: Mughal Law and the Making of British India 1765-1793, further explores the British colonization and transformation of Mughal, Persianate forms of governance in eighteenth-century India. Focusing on Indian practices of petitioning and claims-making in relation to disputes about land, debt and taxation, and using English and Persian language sources, it traces how British rulers built a new colonial system of civil law through selective adaptations and reworkings of Mughal norms and precedents.  

In my current research, I am continuing to explore how the emergence of a modern British empire was shaped by British encounters with South Asian forms of political thought and practice. I am working on a book about the impeachment trial of Warren Hastings, former Governor-general of British India, considering the significance of the trial for the global history of law. 


Research Focus

  • British imperial history
  • South Asian History
  • Global intellectual History
  • Global legal history

Awards and Honors

Honorable Mention from the James Willard Hurst Book Prize for socio-legal history, Law and Society Association, (for Empires of Complaints: Mughal Law and the Making of British India, 1765-1793, Cambridge University Press, 2023).

National Endowment for the Humanities, Fellowship 2023-4

Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, Fellowship at the School of Historical Research, 2023-4



Empires of Complaints: Mughal Law and the Making of British India, 1765-1793 (Cambridge University Press, 2023)

Ideology and Empire in Eighteenth Century India: the British in Bengal 1757-1793 (Cambridge University Press, 2007)

Journal Special Issue:

Co-editor with Rohit De, Petitioning and Political Cultures in South AsiaModern Asian Studies (Jan. 2019) 

Recent Articles:

‘Indian petitioning and colonial state-formation in eighteenth-century Bengal’, Modern Asian Studies 53, 1, Jan. 2019, pp. 89-122.

‘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.

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