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“The Past Is a Foreign Country”: History as Representation in the Writings of William Darlymple

David Edward Gibbons


The work of William Dalrymple reflects a series of transformations, from straightforward travel writing, through more complex and profound encounters with the places and people of various Eastern nations, in particular India, to what most recently might best be described as narrative history. While such depth would be out of place in tourist discourse, some of it – the historical dimension in particular – is unusual even for travel writing. Despite the increasing specialization, however, Dalrymple’s approach has if anything become less elitist in nature; he has even been known to offer his services providing guest lectures on Indian history to select tour parties. His choice of history as his preferred method of representation in theory allows his chosen cultures to represent themselves. In practice, however, it tends to result in a reduced emphasis on the other, and the figure of the first-person narrator, ostensibly relegated to the background, proves to be more resilient than anticipated. Possibly the main theme of Dalrymple’s work as a whole is his own cultural development, from callow travel writer to culturally sensitive historical commentator.


history; India; tourism; travel writing; William Dalrymple

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7358/lcm-2015-001-gibb

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Lingue Culture Mediazioni - Languages Cultures Mediation
Registered by Tribunale di Milano (27/11/2013 n. 380)
Online ISSN 2421-0293 - Print ISSN 2284-1881

Dipartimento di Lingue, Letterature, Culture e Mediazioni  
Università degli Studi di Milano

Editors-in-Chief: Paola Catenaccio (Università degli Studi di Milano) - Giuliana Garzone (IULM, Milano)
Editorial Board: Marina Brambilla (Università degli Studi di Milano) - Giovanni Garofalo (Università degli Studi di Bergamo) - Dino Gavinelli (Università degli Studi di Milano) - Antonella Ghersetti (Università di Venezia Ca’ Foscari) - Maria Grazia Guido (Università del Salento) - Elena Liverani (IULM, Milano) - Stefania Maci (Università degli Studi di Bergamo) - Andrea Maurizi (Università degli Studi di Milano Bicocca) - Chiara Molinari (Università degli Studi di Milano) - Stefano Ondelli (Università degli Studi di Trieste) - Davide Papotti (Università degli Studi di Parma) - Francesca Santulli (Università di Venezia Ca’ Foscari) - Girolamo Tessuto (Università degli Studi della Campania Luigi Vanvitelli) - Giovanni Turchetta (Università degli Studi di Milano) - Stefano Vicari (Università degli Studi di Genova)
International Scientific Committee: James Archibald (Università degli Studi di Torino) - Natalija G. Bragina (Institut Russkogo Jazyka im. A.S. Puškina; RSUH, Mosca) - Kristen Brustad (University of Texas at Austin) - Luciano Curreri (University of Liège) - Hugo de Burgh (University of Westminster) - Giuditta Caliendo (Université de Lille) - Giorgio Fabio Colombo (Università di Venezia Ca' Foscari) - Daniel Dejica (Universitatea Politehnica Timisoara) - Anna De Fina (Georgetown University, USA) - Claudio Di Meola, (Sapienza Università di Roma) - Lawrence Grossberg (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) - Stephen Gundle (University of Warwick) - Décio de Alencar Guzmán (Universidade Federal do Pará, Belém,  Brasile) - Matthias Heinz (Universität Salzburg) - Rosina Márquez-Reiter (The Open University) - John McLeod (University of Leeds) - Estrella Montolío Durán (Universitat de Barcelona) - M'bare N'gom (Morgan State University, Baltimore) - Daragh O'Connell (Cork University) - Roberto Perin (York University, Toronto) - Giovanni Rovere (Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg) - Lara Ryazanova-Clarke (University of Edinburgh) - Françoise Sabban (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris) - Kirk St.Amant (Louisiana Tech University, University of Limerick/University of Strasbourg) - Paul Sambre (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) - Srikant Sarangi (Aalborg University) - Junji Tsuchiya (Waseda University, Tokyo) - Xu Shi (Zhejiang University)
Section Managers: Maria Matilde Benzoni, Università degli Studi di Milano (Modern history) - Paola Cotta Ramusino, Università degli Studi di Milano (Russian linguistics and translation) - Mario de Benedittis, Università degli Studi di Milano (Sociology) - Kim Grego Università degli Studi di Milano (English linguistics and translation) - Giovanna Mapelli, Università degli Studi di Milano (Spanish linguistics and translation) - Bettina Mottura, University of Milan (Chinese studies) - Mauro Giacomo Novelli, Università degli Studi di Milano (Contemporary Italian literature and culture) - Letizia Osti, Università degli Studi di Milano (Arab studies) - Maria Cristina Paganoni, Università degli Studi di Milano (English linguistics and translation) - Giuseppe Sergio, Università degli Studi di Milano (Italian linguistics) - Virginia Sica, Università degli Studi di Milano (Japanese studies)

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