JHI Circle of Fellows Spotlight—Ruby Lal

November 25, 2022 by Sonja Johnston

Ruby Lal is an acclaimed historian of India and Professor of South Asian Studies at Emory University. She taught previously at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. Her fields of study include feminist history and theory, and the question of archive as it relates to writing about Islamic societies in the early modern and modern world. Her biography, Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan was a finalist in History for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and won the Georgia Author of the Year Award in Biography. Ruby joins the JHI in 2022-23 as our Visiting Public Humanities Fellow.

JHI: What are your main research interests?

RL: My fields of study include feminist history and theory, and the question of archive as it relates to writing about Islamic societies in early modern and modern world. I have authored numerous articles and essays for wider audience, and my books include, Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World (Cambridge University Press, New York, 2005);  Coming of Age in Nineteenth Century India: The Girl-Child and the Art of Playfulness (Cambridge University Press, New York, 2013). Recently, I published a biography of the only woman sovereign of Mughal India, Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan (NY: W.W. Norton, 2018, 2020 PB).

JHI: What project(s) were you working on at the JHI and why did you choose it (them)?

RL: While at JHI, I competed the biography of sixteenth century Mughal Princess Gulbadan Begum, who chronicled the peripatetic lives of women, men and children of her dynasty. An extraordinary woman, she left the harem of her nephew, Mughal emperor Akbar the Great to travel across the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean to the Muslim Holy Lands. Her trip led to an international scandal.  I've been working on her memoir since my first book. Hers is the only extant prose document by a woman from the entire world of Classical Muslim Empires, which she competed after her return from Arabia. After three other books, I decided to write the life history of this adventurous woman, whose memoir breaks off at folio 83.

JHI: What were you hoping to experience this year as a JHI Fellow?

RL: I was hoping for rich conversations, exchange of ideas, some good social times together.

JHI: What were you most looking forward to/what did you enjoy the most?

RL: I enjoyed the multi-generational fellowship and exchanges with my colleagues and JHI members

JHI: Share something you read/watched/listened to recently that you enjoyed/were inspired by.

RL: I've been very inspired by Toni Morrison's essays and other writings. I recommend listening to or reading her Nobel Prize acceptance speech. I also recommend reading Polish writer, Olga Tozarchuk's novel, The Books of Jacob.

JHI: What is a fun fact about you?

RL: I love to tease! It's my mode in relationships I am close in.