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April Digital Seminar

16 April 2023

Seminar:  Translating Queenship: Towards a Global Royal Studies?

Bruno M. Shirley, Universität Heidelberg























For several decades, scholars in fields traditionally concerned primarily with the European past have sought to broaden these narrow horizons. Concepts like Heng and Noake’s “global middle ages,” or Subrahmanyam’s “connected histories” of wider Eurasia, have demonstrated the potential of connected and comparative studies of the wider world. However, some historians of places and peoples beyond Europe have remained sceptical of the Eurocentric assumptions they fear may still lie behind these attempts at globalisation. We have found ourselves in a Catch-22 of globalisation: (how) can we move our fields “beyond Europe” without bringing Europe along with us?

This problem is particularly salient for global Royal Studies. While it is easy to identify “royalty” in Latin “regium” or even Sanskrit “rājya,” can we so confidently find “royalty” in Polynesian, African, or American societies? Why were leaders of tribes like the Mohawk and Calusa called “Kings” by European colonisers, while others were led by “Chiefs”? In the face of such uncertainty, it may appear easier for us students of non-European pasts to reject comparative fields like “Royal Studies” altogether, and attend only to the specifics of our case studies. But this would, I argue, be a mistake.

Taking the historiography of premodern Sri Lanka as a case study, I demonstrate how colonial-era assumptions—about power, about social structures such as gender, and about their intersections—continue to distort histories of non-European pasts. More recent studies of European royalty, meanwhile, offer theoretical and methodological approaches which help to identify and correct these distortions, in pursuit of more accurate and less androcentric histories. Refusal to engage with comparative fields like Royal Studies, in other words, does not liberate us from such colonialist shackles, but only prevents us from benefitting from these fields’ long efforts to liberate themselves from the same.



Gabby Storey


Seminar Timetable

17:00 – 17:10: Introduction (Chair)

17:10 – 17:55: Presentations

17:55 – 18:15: Q&A


Presenter bio

Bruno M. Shirley is an intellectual historian of medieval South Asia. His research focuses on ideas and practices of politics, gender, and religion (particularly Buddhism) in Sri Lanka. He is currently an affiliated research fellow in Buddhist Studies at Universität Heidelberg.

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