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Name: David Robinson

PhD: History

Thesis Title: 

Orientalism or Meridionism? Comparing Imperial and European Travel Writing in the Creation of British and European Identity.


Thesis Description

This project will compare British travel writing on India between c.1760 and 1860 with British travel writing on Italy of the same period. Travel narratives were immensely popular in Britain and relatively accessible to a wide, literate public; they were also one of few genres open to female authors. Travel writing had a key role in imagining and constructing the ‘rest of the world’, and configuring hegemonic identities. The project will employ published and manuscript sources from archives in Britain and the Huntingdon Library in California.  These include: Tobias Smollett’s 1766 account of Italy; Hester Piozzi’s diary of her residence in Italy from 1776; Lady Nugent’s 1811 unpublished letters to her children from India; Maria Graham’s 1812-19 travel writings on India and Italy; Fanny Parks’ 1850 diary of a residence in India. By comparing travel writing on Italy and India, my project brings the historiography of British travel writing in Europe into dialogue with the New Imperial History.  I will explore the extent to which British identity drew on the ‘othering’ of both colonised and European people.  In doing so, I challenge the binary between a ‘Europe’ marked as white, masculine and bourgeois and its Orientalised and feminised ‘Other.’

This proposal builds on my previous study of British travel to Italy in the long nineteenth century, English identity formation, and the process of colonial ‘othering’. My BA dissertation recovered the previously-unrecognised anti-feminist writing of a well-known nineteenth-century journalist, showing how gender was used ambivalently in the promotion of reactionary conservative values through the periodical press. My MA dissertation considered the communication of ideas of Britishness through nineteenth-century travel writing on India.   

Said’s canonical argument that ‘the Orient’ represents ‘Europe’s feminised, exoticised Other’ has enabled an understanding of imperialism as a conquest over both material resources and the imagination. Since then, New Imperial Historians have shown how categories of difference justified and enabled European imperial power and how fundamental imperialism was to the construction of a British identity. Building on Ascari’s [2006] discussion of the shifting boundaries of ‘West’ and ‘East,’ my research will compare British travellers’ representations of India and Italy.  For example, the British did not colonise Italy, but they did appropriate its classical culture in defining their own national identity. Similarly, British Orientalists saw some Indian people as ‘Aryan’ and traced descent back to a common origin. My project thus examines British constructions of Italy and India as cultural and geographical spaces contributing to British identity formation, and asks whether ‘meridionism’ may be more useful than ‘orientalism’ when considering British identity formation and its relationship to a wider sense of metropolitan ‘Europeanness.’



Supervisors and Institution(s): Dr Onni Gust (University of Nottingham), Dr Ross Balzaretti (University of Nottingham), Dr Sharon Ouditt (Nottingham Trent University)


Publications (please include full details with page nos. or web links):



Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:

  • 2016 
    • Link 16 Conference paper: Changing images of the Indian harem

  • 2017
    • Publications
    • Conferences and papers:
      • East Midlands History Network conference, University of Lincoln: Metropolitan and Italian 'Orientals'.
      • Public Engagement presentation, University of Nottingham Arts Centre, The paintings of Victor Pasmore 
      • East Midlands History Network conference, University of Nottingham: Back to a future identity
      • The Institute of Historical Research conference, University of London: Italian Orientals and British Identity
      • University of Nottingham Classics and Archaeology conference: Contesting British Identity: British travel accounts of Italy in the 18th and 19th centuries

Other Research Interests:

Founder Member and Chief Article Editor of the Midlands Historical Review: 


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University email address:

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Journal: Midlands Historical Review: 



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