tags: Top Young Historians
Maya Jasanoff, 32
Teaching Position: Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Virginia, 2004-present
Area of Research: Modern Britain, British Empire, Imperialism and Colonization
Education: Ph.D., History, Yale University 2002
Major Publications: Jasanoff is the author of Edge of Empire: Lives, Culture, and Conquest in the East, 1750-1850 (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. London: Fourth Estate, 2005), (Paperback: Vintage, 2006; HarperPerennial, 2006). An Italian translation for Il Saggiatore is under contract. Edge of Empire is the winner of the 50th Duff Cooper Prize, 2005. Shortlisted for the Longman/History Today Book of the Year Prize 2005 and for the Whitfield Book Prize of the Royal Historical Society. "Book of the year" choice in "The Economist," "The Sunday Times," "The Observer," "The Guardian," "The Independent." "Editor's choice" in "The New York Times Book Review."
Jasanoff is currently working on Imperial Exiles: Loyalists in the British Empire, a book about the global diaspora of Loyalists after the American Revolution, in Canada, the Caribbean, Britain, Sierra Leone, and South Asia.
Awards: Jasanoff is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including:
Fellow, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, 2006-2007 New York Public Library Fellow, John W. Kluge Center, Library of Congress 2006;
Postdoctoral Fellow, Society of Fellows, University of Michigan, 2002-2004;
Jacob K. Javits Fellowship 1998-2002;
Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities 1997-1998;
Frank M. Knox Memorial Fellowship 1996-1997;
Duff Cooper Prize, 2006;
Shortlist, Whitfield Book Prize, Royal Historical Society 2006;
Shortlist, Longman-History Today 2005 Book of the Year 2006;
Harrison Research Award (Faculty Sponsor), Center for Undergraduate Excellence, University of Virginia 2006;
National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend 2005;
Hans Gatzke Prize for Outstanding Dissertation in European History, 2003;
Phi Beta Kappa 1996.
Jasanoff was formerly a postdoctoral fellow in the Society of Fellows at the University of Michigan, 2002-2004.
Jasanoff has published numerous book reviews in general publications including the London Review of Books, and academic forums such as H-Net.
My dissertation about British imperialism in India and Egypt was partly inspired by traveling around the former empire. So it was only fitting that I should actually start writing it while visiting a one-time British colony: with pen and paper one July day, on the roof-terrace of the British Hotel in Valletta, Malta.
The hotel overlooked Valletta's spectacular Grand Harbour, ringed in the sixteenth century by elegant, severe stone walls. A couple of days before, a friend and I had seen it as it was designed to be seen: we sailed in, coasting past the pointed batteries and watchtowers, one mysteriously carved with a staring eye. We had arrived on a Maltese container ship named—could it be otherwise?-the Maltese Falcon. For the voyage from Genoa, we had had the run of the ship; the only other passengers were two truck-drivers who spent the whole journey closeted in the small lounge, curtains drawn, smoking and watching pirated action movies. On the bridge, the Iraqi skipper let us peer at his charts and quiz him about the instruments. The ship's cook, Salvator , regaled us with his decades of sea-won wisdom, which he delivered in emphatic outbursts composed chiefly of nouns. One of the senior sailors, slicking another layer of green paint onto the deck while I sunbathed next to the empty turquoise “pool,” offered his own nuggets of enlightenment like milestones punctuating long stretches of silence.
The cargo ship turned out to be a suitable introduction to the rather lost-in-time quality of Valletta itself. (The Maltese Falcon has now been sold, and the national shipping company, Sea Malta, dissolved.) From 1800 to 1964 Malta was a British colony. The bar of the British Hotel, with its dust-caked bottles of cheap whisky and liqueurs, looked as if nobody had frequented it since the British had left. Under British rule, Valletta boasted a huge naval dockyard and served as the home port of Queen Victoria's Mediterranean fleet. Now, that great naval tradition was evoked by two quite different warships, French and American, on NATO service. Maltese families strolled past to look at the dour, steel craft; off-duty officers got boisterously drunk in a nearby bar.
British influences lingered elsewhere. Converted British troop carriers from the 1940s now served as Malta's signature public buses. Menus advertised fish fingers, chicken and chips, spaghetti bolognese, and, in one gourmet touch, chicken "Gordon Blue." Where every other Mediterranean country comes to life again in the evening after a siesta, the Vallettans, in most un-Mediterranean style, closed up shop at siesta-time and never came back. (Indeed, the only place that seemed to serve reasonable evening meals was the café of the Maltese Labour Party.) To walk the streets on those baking July afternoons was to walk with echoes and ghosts, across a historical stage set.
I wrote about India while I was in Valletta, and Malta only figured in two or three sentences in my entire dissertation. But I will always remember how and where it first took shape—in the blaring sunlight by the Grand Harbour, in a city tinted by imperial memories.
By Maya Jasanoff
About Maya Jasanoff
"Her theme is not how 'Others' were excluded by the imperial process, but the far more elusive, and in the end more illuminating ways in which so many were included in what she calls the 'rhetoric and systems of empire'. Edge of Empire is about crossing boundaries; about the porousness of culture in the early years of the British Empire; about frontiers, both geographical and mental, and how they are constructed and reconfigured." -- Anthony Pagden in "The London Review of Books" reviewing "Edge of Empire: Lives, Culture, and Conquest in the East 1750-1850"
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