Christopher Bahl (SOAS), Thornley Fellow (6 months)

Travelling texts - Arabicised communities and histories of circulation across the early modern Western Indian Ocean

Christopher D. Bahl is a PhD candidate in History at SOAS, University of London. His transregional PhD project studies cultural practices in the circulation of Arabic Islamicate texts across the Western Indian Ocean to advance an argument on intensifying socio-cultural connections between the Red Sea region and Western India during the early modern period (1400-1700).

The transregional approach aims to entangle two levels of inquiry: Firstly, it refers to the cross-reading of different historiographical traditions of the Middle East and South Asia with regard to Islamicate cultures. The ultimate objective is to embed them in a growing field of Indian Ocean cultural history. And secondly, to assemble a corpus of transregionally transmitted Islamicate texts based on manuscripts that can be studied with a view on historical practices in their circulation. These source materials were collected during several fieldwork trips to different regions of the Western Indian Ocean region, namely Egypt, Gujarat and the Deccan, as well as libraries in the UK, Germany, Austria and Istanbul. The main objective is to analyse histories of circulation as they were inscribed on the manuscripts using methodologies developed recently in the literary study of paratexts and manuscripts notes.

Christopher received MAs from Heidelberg University and SOAS. He also studied at the University of Damascus, Syria, and the Central University of Hyderabad, India. He is a member of the editorial board of the Interdisziplinäre Zeitschrift für Südasienforschung (The Interdisciplinary Journal for Research on South Asia) and a convenor of the History Lab Seminar at the IHR.

Research and publications


  • ‘Creating a cultural repertoire based on texts - Arabic manuscripts and the historical practices of a Sufi in seventeenth century Bijapur.’ Journal of Islamic Manuscripts, special issue, The history of books and collections through manuscript notes (forthcoming).
  • ‘From the centre to the margins: The transfer of books across the early modern Western Indian Ocean’, DYNTRAN Working Papers, no. 24, online edition, May 2017, available at:
  • ‘Reading tarājim with Bourdieu. Prosopographical traces of historical change in the South Asian migration to the late medieval Hijaz,’ in: Der Islam. Journal of the History and Culture of the Middle East, 94/1, 2017, pp. 234-275.


  • ‘Preservation through elaboration. The Historicisation of the Abyssinians in al-Suyūṭī’s Rafʿ shaʾn al Ḥubshān’, in: Antonella Ghersetti (ed.), Al-Suyūṭī, a polymath of the Mamlūk period. Leiden: Brill, 2016, pp. 118-142.


  • Review of al-Musawi, M. J., The Medieval Islamic Republic of Letters: Arabic Knowledge Construction. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2015, in: Der Islam. 95/1, 2018, pp. 240-245.
  • Review of Liebrenz, Boris: Die Rifāʿīya aus Damaskus. Eine Privatbibliothek im osmanischen Syrien und ihr kulturelles Umfeld. In: British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 44/3, 2017.
  • Review of Dharampal-Frick, Gita; Dwyer, Rachel; Kirloskar-Steinbach, Monika; Phalkey, Jahnavi (eds.), Key Concepts in Modern Indian Studies. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2015, in: H-Soz-Kult. 24.05.2016.