Dr Robert Upton

  • Global intellectual history in the colonial era
  • Indian ideologies of political violence and extremism
  • Transnational religious mobilization
  • Masculinity and the male body in colonial India

My transnational research is into the life of ideas in the global context of the late-colonial world; I particularly focus on Indian intellectual life of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

My doctoral dissertation and forthcoming monograph study the thought of Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920), one of the most influential political figures in late colonial India. The study offers a way of examining the output of a late colonial Indian intellectual in a way that blends the quotidian and the canonical, and in this offers a contribution to the practice of the intellectual history of South Asia. It also demonstrates Tilak’s situation within cosmopolitan and particularly imperial frameworks of thought, placing Tilak squarely as a subject of global intellectual history; and it eschews the distorting teleology which places him narrowly as a forerunner of modern Hindu nationalism. The study in particular examines the development of racial ideas in colonial western India, through Tilak’s understanding of ‘Aryanism’, a crucial framework for him, much influenced by its prestige within British imperial discourse. It also underlines Tilak’s conception of how India’s revival could be effected by the propagation of a heavily gendered martial identity, which he saw as historically pertaining to India’s warrior (Kshatriya) castes, throughout society, something which again drew on colonial discourse and had transnational wellsprings. Relatedly, it re-examines Tilak’s endorsement of political violence as an expression of radical liberalism, aimed at resisting autocratic forms of government.

I have extended my examination of some of these themes by publishing on the broad enthusiasm for military enlistment among Indian elites during the First World War, reflecting their fears over Indians’ bodily emasculation, fomented by colonial discourses of ‘effeminacy’, and their desire to self-strengthen through participation in modern war.

My current research project develops some of my core research interests more directly in terms of British imperial history, looking at the growth of Islam in late Victorian Britain, particularly the activities of the Liverpool Muslim Institute, in terms of transnational religious mobilisation within the British empire; in particular it examines the implications of this for conceptualising and maintaining the imperial system.


I currently teach:

Prelims: FHS:
1919: Remaking the World

From Gandhi to the Green Revolution: India, Independence and Modernity, 1947-73


Imperialism and Nationalism: South Asia 1885-1947


Imperial and Global History: 1750-1930


  • 'It gives us a power and strength which we do not possess': Martiality, manliness, and India's Great War enlistment drive

  • ‘Take out a thorn with a thorn’: B. G. Tilak’s legitimization of political violence

  • More