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University of Oxford Faculty of English

Boehmer, Elleke

Position: Professor of World Literature in English; Fellow, Wolfson College
College: Wolfson
Period/Subject: Colonial and Postcolonial literature, Imperial history and histories of empire, especially in India, Africa and Australasia

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Research and Teaching Interests:


Internationally known for her research in postcolonial writing and theory and the literature of empire, Elleke Boehmer (BA(Hons), MPhil (Oxon), DPhil (Oxon)) currently works on questions of migration, identity and resistance in both postcolonial literature and writing of the colonial period, in particular of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Elleke Boehmer's main supervisory interests include anti-colonialism since 1870; life-writing and auto-biography; modernism, masculinity and empire; and the cross-overs between feminism and nationalism in colonial and postcolonial writing.

A Rhodes Scholar (1985-88), Elleke Boehmer is Professor of World Literature in English, a Professorial Governing Body Fellow at Wolfson College, and Deputy Director of the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing at Wolfson. Elleke writes both fiction and non-fiction, cultural history and criticism. For more on Elleke Boehmer's fiction please visit

Professor Boehmer is the recipient of a Leverhulme International Network Grant for 2014-16.  The network Planned Violence: Post/colonial Urban Infrastructures and Literature will investigate the shifting relationship between urban planning, violence and literary representation from colonial into postcolonial times.  Engaging in a dialogue between critical geographers, historians and cultural and literary critics, the network will hold four workshops in four cities on three continents, as well as a keynote lecture.  The workshops will aim to identify literary texts as key to interrogating current theoretical debates on space and social control and will discuss such writers as Monica Ali, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Manju Kapur, Siphiso Mzobe and Ivan Vladislavic. The project will be undertaken in collaboration with: Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; King’s College, London; the OU; the University of Warwick; and WISER at the University of the Witwatersrand.  Details of the project can be found at or email

Professor Boehmer is also Co-convenor, with Dr Stephen Tuck (History), of the TORCH-funded Race and Resistance in the Long Nineteenth Century network, which meets on Fridays at 1:00 in the Humanities building.  She is director of the Marie Curie funded International Training network ‘CoHaB’ in the Faculty of English and in 2012-13 was mentor to the Marie Curie post-doctoral fellow in Diaspora Studies, Dr Lynda Ng. The CoHaB ITN consortium ALSO includes Oxford's COMPAS, Muenster, Mumbai, SOAS and Stockholm.  Please see

Elleke Boehmer was Co-Investigator, with Professor Susheila Nasta of the Open University (PI), on a large AHRC-funded project ‘Making Britain' to investigate the many rich South Asian contributions to British social, cultural and political life in the period 1870-1950. Working together with Research Assistant Dr Sumita Mukherjee and historian Dr Rozina Visram, Elleke focussed on the pre-1918 period. The team explored inter alia Indian students' lives in Britain, in particular Oxbridge and London, the experience of Indian Sepoys on the Western front, and the involvement of Indian intellectuals, artists, and writers in the formation of a pre-War avant-garde. The Modernist friends and collaborators, William Rothenstein and Rabindranath Tagore, 7 July 1912Elleke is writing up a monograph based on this research, provisionally entitled, India Arrived.

Left: The Modernist friends and collaborators, William Rothenstein and Rabindranath Tagore, 7 July 1912


In the longer term Elleke Boehmer, a native speaker of Netherlands, is developing a comparative project looking at inter-relations between colonial, postcolonial and migrant writing in English and Dutch in the long nineteenth century, and at adaptations of postcolonial theory in the Low Countries.

Elleke Boehmer is the General Editor of the successful Series, Oxford Studies in Postcolonial Literatures (OUP). The Series currently features the titles Postcolonial Poetry in English by Rajeev Patke (2006), West African Literatures by Stephanie Newell (2006), Pacific Islands Writing by Michelle Keown (2007), and Australian Literature by Graham Huggan. Priya Gopal's volume on the Indian novel in English appeared in January 2009.

Professor Boehmer currently supervises DPhil/PhD students working on transnationalism; globalization and postcolonial literature; postcolonial ethics; the post-human; states of failure and hope; nineteenth-century South Asian writing; the Victorian novel and empire; the document in Modernism; Kipling and Yeats; Indian Ocean writing; and Antiguan writing, calypso and gender. 

When asked recently about her particular perspective on colonial and postcolonial research, Elleke Boehmer commented: "My work in postcolonial or international literature in English has looked in particular at how selves and lives are articulated by those who do not have authoritative languages and modes of self-description to hand.  The postcolonial authors I have written on include J.M. Coetzee, Peter Carey, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Amitav Ghosh.  Across the past ten years or so, however, apart from a short biography of Nelson Mandela, I have worked mainly in the colonial period, the time of ‘high empire’, around 1870-1930, focussing on a range of literary and cultural issues not unrelated to these postcolonial concerns: resistance, identity, cultural translation, international modernism, split belonging, and imagining community, amongst others.  Against the grain of much imperial historiography to date, which tends still to privilege the hierarchical relationship of colonizer and colonized, my research has been consistently directed to less conventional or less predictable colonial relations, be they lateral, co-operative or ‘cross border’, that is, surprising proximities rather than situations of conflict, shared rather than divided histories.' 

'India Arrived,' she said, 'the monograph I aim to complete in 2012, considers the lived lives and cultural contributions of early Indian immigrants to Britain (1870-1914)—how they were perceived and how they perceived themselves as ‘travellers in the west’ (Ghosh). The book suggests that the period of high imperialism and Indian migration it covers was distinguished in particular by acts of cultural exchange operating in both directions between India and Britain, expressed as one-on-one interactions between Indian and British individuals (Dadabhai Naoroji and his British hosts; M Ghose and L Binyon; Sarojini Naidu and the 1890s poets around Yeats; Rothenstein and Tagore); within groups such as the National Indian Association, the Theosophical Society, and the India Society, all of which involved Indian and British members; and also, importantly, within literary texts including novels and poems, such as by Naidu, Yeats, Tagore, Mansfield, Conan Doyle, and Wilkie Collins. Looking beyond India Arrived I hope in the next year or so to loop back to the later twentieth century period, and to work more comparatively on certain formal questions raised by international writing in English, to date little addressed in the field: for example, can we speak of certain distinguishing figures, symbols, structures, generic concerns which link international writings in English in a cross-border way, be they elegiac, ‘hybrid’, mimicked, creolized, etc.?  Does it make sense to speak of a postcolonial aesthetic, or of postcolonial texts as ways not only of representing but of thinking through postcolonial identities?"

Recent Publications:

Elleke's most recent publications include:

'J.M. Coetzee's Australian Realism', in Postcolonial Poetics: Genre and Form, co-edited by Patrick Crowley and Jane Hiddleston (Liverpool UP, 2011)

'The zigzag lines of tentative connection: Indian-British contacts in the late nineteenth century', in India in Britain 1858-1950, edited by Susheila Nasta (Palgrave MacMillan, 2013)

'Circulating Forms: The Jingo Poem at the Height of Empire', English Language Notes, ed. Laura Winkiel, 49.1, 2011

Elleke Boehmer has published the internationally cited Colonial and Postcolonial Literature: Migrant Metaphors (Oxford UP, 1995; 2nd edn 2005), and an acclaimed monograph investigating transnational links between anti-colonial movements, Empire, the National, and the Postcolonial, 1890-1920 (Oxford UP, 2002; paperback 2004).

Colonial and Postcolonial Literature 2ed, Migrant Metaphors.

In 2005 she published a study of the influential intersections between nationalist, postcolonial and feminist thought Stories of Women: Gender and Narrative in the Postcolonial Nation (Manchester UP). The monograph appeared from Manchester UP in paperback in the summer of 2009.

In the summer of 2008 she published the cultural history, Nelson Mandela: A Very Short Introduction (OUP). See also 'Beyond the icon: Mandela in his 90th year', Open Democracy, November 2008.

She has edited the anthology Empire Writing, 1870-1918 and, more recently, the British bestseller Scouting for Boys, Robert Baden-Powell's primer of the Scout movement (2004; pb 2005), as well as Cornelia Sorabji's 1934 India Calling (with Naella Grew: Trent Editions, 2004).

She has co-edited collections of essays on transnationalism, the new South Africa (1990 and 2005), and on questions in postcolonial aesthetics. A collection of critical essays on Terror and the Postcolonial, rising from the successful 2006 British Academy supported workshops, co-organised with Dr Stephen Morton, appeared from Wiley-Blackwell in 2009. Further details.

A collection, J.M. Coetzee in Context and Theory, co-edited with Robert Eaglestone and Katy Iddiols, was out from Continuum in 2009, and a critical reader looking at postcolonial theorizations of J.M. Coetzee in Context and TheoryIndia, that pre-eminent 'post-colonial' nation, The Indian Postcolonial, edited with Rosinka Chaudhuri, in 2011.

Elleke Boehmer has published four widely acclaimed novels, Screens Against the Sky (1990: shortlisted David Higham Prize); An Immaculate Figure (1993), Bloodlines (2000: shortlisted Sanlam Prize), and Nile Baby (Ayebia, 2008), as well as a number of short stories in journals, magazines, and anthologies. Her most recent stories include ‘Fold’ published in STAND in 2009; and ‘It’s OK’, an AIDS story published in Flash Fiction 1Nile Baby explores the deeply embedded presences of Africa in Britain. Sharmilla, and Other Portraits (Jacana, 2010) is her first collection of short stories and was praised for its mix of 'intelligence' and 'engagement' by Andre Brink.

Articles by Elleke Boehmer 2005-2010 include:

-"First realise your need": Manju Kapur's Erotic Nation'. Alternative Indias : Cultural Diversity in Contemporary Literature in English. Edited by Peter Morey and Alex Tickell. Amsterdam . Rodopi. 2005.

-'Postcolonialism'. In The Theory and Practice of Literary Criticism: An Oxford Guide. Edited by Patricia Waugh. Oxford UP. 2005.

-'Postcolonial Terrorist: The Case of Nelson Mandela'. Parallax 37.2005.

-'Sorry, sorrier, sorriest: The Gendering of Contrition in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace'. J. M. Coetzee and the Idea of the Public Intellectual. Edited by Jane Poyner. Athens . Ohio UP. 2006.

-'Response to Caryl Phillips'. The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 2004. Oxford . Oxford UP. 2006.

-‘Postcolonial writing and Terror', Wasafiri 22 (July 2007). Special issue: Cultures of Terror. pp. 1-4.

-‘Asexual and Anal: Baden-Powell and the Boy Scouts'. Oxford History of Medicine, volume 4. Edited by George Rousseau. Palgrave Macmillan. 2007.

-‘Here nor There'. Published as ‘Hier noch dort: Schreiben auberhalf der Muttersprache'. Exophonie: Anders-Sprachligkeit (in) der Literatur. Edited by Susan Arndt, D. Naguschewski, R. Stockhammer. Berlin . Kadmos Verlag. 2007.

-‘Motherlands, mothers and nationalist sons: theorizing the en-gendered nation'. Empire and Nation. Ed. Stephen Howe. Oxford UP. 2007.

-Introduction. Re-issue of African Writers Series classic The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta. Oxford. Pearson Publishers. 2008. pp. i-vii.

-'Edward Said and (the postcolonial occlusion of) Gender'. Edward Said and the Literary, Social and Political World. Edited by Ranjan Ghosh. Preface Benita Parry. NY. SUNY Press. 2009. pp. 124-136.

-'Postcolonial Writing and Terror'. French translation, Littérature, ed. T. Todorov, trans. Martin Mégevand. 2009.

-With Frances Gouda. 'Postcolonial Studies and the Diasporic Netherlands'. Comparing Postcolonial Diasporas. Edited by James Procter, David Murphy and Michelle Keown. Basingstoke. Palgrave Macmillan. 2009.

- 'The Postcolonial Aesthetic'.  Re-Routing the Postcolonial. Edited by Janet Wilson et al.  Routledge.  2010.

Other Information:

Elleke Boehmer holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Växjö, Sweden.

In 2008 Elleke Boehmer gave presentations on both Nelson Mandela and Nile Baby as linked yet differentiated imaginings of Africa; and a talk on ‘Achebe and Influence’ at the University of Toronto, to mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of Things Fall Apart.  In 2009 she spoke on ‘Coetzee’s Australias of the Mind’ at a conference "Coetzee in Australia" in Sydney (January), gave the MM Bhattacharya endowment lectures at the University of Calcutta (March), and was Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (September).  In 2010 she was a Visiting Fellow at the University of Barcelona, and in January 2011 lectured at UCLA, Irvine and Stanford.  She was Distinguished Visiting Professor at Monash University, in Melbourne, Australia, in October 2011.  In 2012 she read and lectured in Copenhagen, Utrecht and Berlin. In 2013 she gave a keynote lecture on Autre-fiction at Linnaeus University Sweden, and presented at the closing Balzan conference on cognitive theory in Oslo in September.

Elleke is the co-convenor with Dr Ankhi Mukherjee of the lively Oxford Postcolonial Seminar, and founding co-convenor, with Professor Helen Gilbert and Dr David Lambert, of the Royal Holloway Postcolonial Research Group. In 2009 the Postcolonial Seminar hosted authors Caryl Phillips and J.M. Coetzee; in 2010 Amitav Ghosh, Hisham Matar, and Nuruddin Farah appeared as visiting postcolonial writers at Oxford.  In 2011-12 the Seminar hosted Professors David Palumbo-Liu, Pheng Cheah and Stephanie Newell, among other speakers.

The 10 November 2011 postcolonial seminar was devoted to an interview between Elleke Boehmer and Zoe Norridge (York) about issues arising from her recent fiction and life-writing.  For a recording of the interview please click here.

Articles by Elleke Boehmer lodged with ORA:

Postcolonial terrorist: the example of Nelson Mandela

Global and textual webs in an age of transnational capitalism; or, what isn't new about Empire

Postcolonial writing and terror

A Postcolonial Aesthetic: Repeating upon the Present.  Re-routing the Postcolonial: New Directions for the New Millennium.  Edited by Janet Wilson, Cristina Sandru and Sarah L Welsh. London. Routledge. 2010. pp.170-81.

Other Links:

Alain Locke in the 21st Century conference

University of Oxford Alumni Weekend 2008- audio podcast 'Global Perspectives and the Oxford Humanities Division' Elleke on 'South Asians Making Britain'

'Exploring the In-Between: Elleke Boehmer, Writer, Critic & Long Distance Friend' by Karina Magdalena Szczurek

Elleke Boehmer in a 2011 Hay on Wye discussion about Canons and Classics - video available here.

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