“Early Modern History Writing and English Perception of the Mughal Empire”
In the early seventeenth century, several travelers initiated contact between Jacobean England and the Mughal Empire. Funded by the newly formed East India Company, these men attempted to negotiate commercial partnerships with Emperor Akbar and his son, Emperor Jahangir. They carefully documented their journeys in letters and journals, reflecting the desire of early modern Englishmen to supplant mythic medieval travelogues with firsthand information about the world. To further this end, travelers’ accounts were published in Purchas his Pilgrimes, a collection of travel writing produced by Samuel Purchas. He hoped that recent discoveries would resolve the inconsistencies of his ancient sources and reveal that English people were destined to spread across the globe. My paper considers the tension between Purchas’s triumphant vision of English expansion and travelers’ descriptions of India. Examining these sources concurrently reveals the range of ideologies shaping English writing about India. I argue that travelers’ diverse representations of the Mughal Empire undermined Purchas’ imperialist project in the Pilgrimes.