South Asian Studies

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(including Sanskrit)

Edinburgh has had a long tradition of teaching and scholarship on South Asian topics and has long been the principal centre of expertise in Scotland. An early example was William Robertson (1721-1793), who was Principal from 1762 to 1793. Robertson's An Historical Disquisition Concerning the Knowledge which the Ancients had of India, published in 1791, was amongst the earliest European texts to take a serious interest in Indian commerce and culture.

In the colonial period, many Edinburgh graduates worked in the Indian sub-continent in the Government services, as missionaries, in commerce, or in industry. They became especially prominent in the East India Company's service when Henry Dundas (who was both born and graduated in Edinburgh) chaired the Board of Control in the late eighteenth century, with as many as one-fifth of the Company writer's in Calcutta and Madras being Scottish in origin by the 1790's. A still more prominent role was later played by Scots in the India military, whilst no less than 8 out of the 38 Indian Viceroys and Governor-Generals between 1774 and 1947 were of Scottish origin.

The beginning of the modern academic study in Edinburgh of South Asia is closely linked to the influence of two early East India Company officials, John and William Muir. John (1810-1882) was the eldest, and William the youngest, of four sons of a Glasgow merchant, all of whom were provided with positions in the East India Company by a friend of their widowed mother. The two middle brothers died in India. John rose to be a District Judge and retired in 1853, returning to Edinburgh. William Muir was in Agra during the events of 1857-58 and later became Lieutenant-Governor of the North-Western Provinces, retiring to Edinburgh in 1875 when he became Principal of the University, remaining in post until he died. In 1862, the two brothers established the Chair of Sanskrit, with the right to nominate the first holder, Theodor Aufrecht (1822-1907). After this the right reverted to the Crown as a Regius Chair.

Soon after the establishment of the chair in Sanskrit, Hugh Francis Clarke Cleghorn (1820-1895) (founder, with Sir Dietrich Brandis, of the Indian Forestry Service) was appointed to the first lectureship in Forestry in 1869. The very first Indian Students Association was then founded in Edinburgh, in 1875, in response to the large influx of students of both medicine and forestry from India. This has since been transformed into the Edinburgh Indian Association, with which the Centre retains close links, as with the Edinburgh South Asian Students Association.

The second holder of the Sanskrit Chair, Hans Julius Eggeling (1842–1918), Professor from 1875 to 1914, was the author of the main article on Sanskrit in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and was Curator of the University Library from 1900 to 1913. In August 1914 he left for vacation in his native Germany, and because of the War was unable to return before his death in 1918. Eggeling taught Arthur Berriedale Keith (1879-1944), who them went to Balliol College, Oxford and began a career as a civil servant. Keith held the Regius Chair from 1914 to 1944. He also acquired in 1927 the title of Lecturer in the Constitution of the British Empire, preferring these combined posts in his native Edinburgh to accepting chairs of Sanskrit in Harvard or Oxford. He is best known for his work on colonial-history and legal development, and he became an authority on constitutional reform in India, but he also published widely on Sanskrit.

The Regius Chair of Sanskrit was left unfilled after Keith's death, but in the 1950s-1980s Edinburgh University had on its staff the Marxist historian Victor Gordon Kiernan (1913–2009), famous for his translations of the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Mohammed Iqbal and as author of The Lords of Human Kind (1969). Ron Asher became Professor of Linguistics (specializing in Dravidian languages) from 1977 to 1993 and the chair in Sanskrit was eventually filled when John Brockington was appointed to a Personal Chair in 1998 until his retirement in 2006.

Professors of Sanskrit

Sources

The text on this page has been adapted from that at The History of South Asian Studies at Edinburgh (accessed 09 June 2014)