Personal profile

Biography

After completing my PhD at Oxford in 2013, I was a postdoctoral researcher in the Centre for Concurrences in Colonial & Postcolonial Studies at Linnaeus University, in Sweden. From 2014 to 2017 I was a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at King's College London, and I joined Roehampton in 2017. In 2018 I spent a year at Trinity College Dublin as a Marie Curie visiting fellow.

Research interests

I study translation, migration, multilingualism and cosmopolitanism in the nineteenth-century world, and how these phenomena were shaped by Britain’s prolonged colonial entanglement with India. Particular interests for me have been transnational writers active in 1880s and 1890s London, and the circulation of books and translations throughout the British Empire. While my interests are mainly literary, I originally trained as a historian and have  written on several aspects of modern Indian history – including a Scandinavian railway contractor who made his fortune in 1860s Bombay, and the diaries of Irish soldiers serving in India.

In 2016 I published Meeting Without Knowing It: Kipling and Yeats at the Fin de Siècle (Oxford University Press), a comparative study of the two poets at the start of their careers in 1890s London. It won the 2017 University English Book Prize, and was shortlisted for one of the ESSE Book Awards. John Batchelor, writing in Modern Language Review, described it as ‘concise, ingenious, scholarly, dense, and illuminating’.

In 2023 my second book, Asian Classics on the Victorian Bookshelf: Flights of Translationcame out with OUP. It seeks to make a contribution in two areas: translation studies and the history of reading. The appetite of Victorian readers for classical literature from Asia has been greatly underestimated. The popularity of the Arabian Nights and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is well known. But this was also an era in which freethinkers consulted the Quran, in which schoolchildren were given abridgements of the Ramayana to read, in which names like ‘Kalidasa’ and ‘Firdusi’ were carved on the façades of public libraries, and in which women’s book clubs discussed Japanese poetry. Asian Classics explores the numerous popular translations that were created to make these texts accessible to the Victorian and Edwardian general readership.

I have collected over one hundred copies of such translations, many containing pencil notes left by their Victorian former owners. I am currently creating a website for this collection, which I call AVaTAR (Archive of Victorian Translations from Asia and their Readerships). The website will host a searchable catalogue as well as photographs of the books and their marginalia. I welcome any requests to visit Roehampton and examine these books.

Research projects

In 2021, I was awarded a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship to undertake my third major research project, Polyglot Century: Victorian Cultures of Multilingualism. The 19th Century saw the arrival of mass literacy in Britain, and the emergence of a thriving autodidact culture whereby people with limited formal education acquired knowledge using digests, encyclopaedias and ‘how to’ guides. One aspect of this self-education revolution that remains understudied is foreign language acquisition, accomplished using cheap primers like A Stepping Stone to the French Language (1851) and Elementary Lessons in Chinese (1887), as well as periodicals like The Polyglot Magazine and The Linguist. I am undertaking the first thorough study of these materials, which form a significant but little-known subset within the huge body of Victorian self-help and self-improvement literature. A particular focus is the novelist Thomas Hardy, who taught himself French and German using a variety of grammars, readers, dictionaries and phrasebooks.

Qualifications

DPhil English (Oxford University, 2013)

MSt History (Oxford University, 2009)

BA English (Oxford University, 2008)

Teaching

On the BA English, I teach the first-year module Questioning the Canon, and in the second year a medical humanities course, Romantic & Victorian Bodies. On the MA in Children's Literature, I teach World Literature for Children, 1880-1950, as part of the component on Form & Genre. I also contribute sessions on the history of reading, and decolonizing archives, to our MA course Archives

I would be pleased to hear from any prospective PhD students planning to work on Victorian literature (including Kipling), especially in connection with Asia and the British Empire, or in book history, the history of reading or history of translation.

Twitter: @sikandar_bubb

External positions

Marie Sklodowska-Curie COFUND Fellow, University of Dublin, Trinity College

1 Oct 201730 Sept 2018

Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, King's College London

1 Oct 201431 Jul 2017