Elleke Boehmer

Professor of World Literature in English; Fellow, Wolfson College


Colonial and Postcolonial literature, Imperial history and histories of empire, especially in India, Africa and Australasia

Email address 


Research and Teaching Interests

Elleke Boehmer (BA(Hons), MPhil (Oxon), DPhil (Oxon)) is Professor of World Literature in English in the English Faculty, University of Oxford, and currently Director of the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH). She is a founding figure in the field of colonial and postcolonial studies, and internationally known for her research in anglophone literatures of empire and anti-empire. She is an acclaimed novelist and short story writer, most recently of The Shouting in the Dark (2015).

Elleke Boehmer's creative work like her critical and historical research explores issues of migration, identity, friendship, diaspora, race and gender representation, nationalism, and the global, in particular relating to sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and contemporary Britain. Elleke Boehmer's most recent monograph is Indian Arrivals 1870-1915: Networks of British Empire, a critical historical investigation of South Asian contributions to British literary, social, cultural and political life in the period 1870-1915. For more on Elleke Boehmer's fiction please visit www.ellekeboehmer.com

A Rhodes Scholar (1985-88), Elleke Boehmer is a Professorial Governing Body Fellow at Wolfson College, and Deputy Director of the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing at Wolfson. Her most recent research project was the Leverhulme funded International Network Planned Violence: Post/colonial Urban Infrastructures and Literature (2014-16), on which she served as PI. The project investigated the shifting relationship between urban planning, violence and literary representation from colonial into postcolonial times, and will lead to several essay based publications. Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; King’s College, London; the OU; the University of Warwick; and WISER at the University of the Witwatersrand were all collaborators on the project: further details can be found at www.plannedviolence.org or email planned.violence@gmail.com

For details of Elleke Boehmer's other research involvements, please see the TORCH website (especially the research Programme 'Race and Resistance in the Long Twentieth Century'); the Marie Curie funded ITN 'CoHaB' project; and the AHRC funded ‘Making Britain' project. 

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. Her novel The Shouting in the Dark (2015) also considers questions of how we deal with legacies of colonialism and race, in this case in the Netherlands and South Africa. Her other new project 'Postcolonial Text, World Form' will investigate how contemporary postcolonial British novels shape our understanding of migration, race and terror.

Elleke Boehmer is the General Editor of the successful Series, Oxford Studies in Postcolonial Literatures (OUP). Series titles include: Postcolonial Poetry in English by Rajeev Patke (2006), West African Literatures by Stephanie Newell (2006), Pacific Islands Writing by Michelle Keown (2007), Australian Literature by Graham Huggan (2010), and the recent Postcolonial Life Writing by Gillian Whitlock.

Professor Boehmer currently supervises DPhil/PhD students working on transnationalism; globalization and postcolonial literature; postcolonial ethics; nineteenth-century South Asian writing; colonial nostalgia; Linton Kwesi Johnson; and South East Asian writing.

On her particular perspective on colonial and postcolonial research, Elleke Boehmer has 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.'

'Indian Arrivals, for example' she said, 'considers the lived lives and cultural contributions of early Indian immigrants to Britain (1870-1915)—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 Indian Arrivals 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?"

Other Publications

Elleke Boehmer has published five monographs and five novels to date, as well as many edited and co-edited collections, interviews, critical creative responses, and essays in refereed journals.

Among her best-known publications are 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).

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 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, co-edited 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 five widely acclaimed novels, Screens Against the Sky (1990: shortlisted David Higham Prize); An Immaculate Figure (1993), Bloodlines (2000: shortlisted Sanlam Prize), Nile Baby (Ayebia, 2008), and The Shouting in the Dark, as well as a number of short stories in journals, magazines, and anthologies. 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 2010-2015 include

  • ‘The 1990s: An increasingly postcolonial decade’. Journal of Commonwealth Literature 50.3 (2015). With Alex Tickell.
  • ‘Literature, planning and infrastructure: Investigating the Southern City though postcolonial texts’. JPW 51.4 (2015).  With Dominic Davies.
  • Nelson Mandela entry. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity and Nationalism.  Ed. John Stone.  2015.  See also: ‘Nelson Mandela: Tribute’. Moving Worlds. 2014.
  • ‘The text in the world, the world through the text: Robert Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys’. Eds. Antoinette Burton and Isabel Hofmeyr. Ten Books that Shaped the British Empire: Creating an Imperial Commons. Durham NC: Duke University Press. 2014. pp. 131-52.
  • ‘Chinua Achebe, a Father of Modern African Literature’.  PMLA 129.2 (March 2014): 237-9.
  • ‘Coetzee and Australia’. In Approaches to Teaching Coetzee’s Disgrace and Other Works.  Ed. Laura Wright et al.  New York.  Modern Languages Association.  2014.
  • ‘The World and the Postcolonial’. European Review 22.2. 2014. pp. 299-308.
  • ‘Nelson Mandela: The Oratory of the Black Pimpernel’.  Africa's Peacemakers: Nobel Peace Laureates of African Descent. Edited by Adekeye Adebajo. London: Zed, 2013. pp. 161-77.
  • ‘Revisiting Resistance: Postcolonial Practice and the Antecedents of Theory’.  The Oxford Handbook of Postcolonial Studies.  Edited by Graham Huggan.  Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2013.  pp. 307-23
  • ‘The zigzag lines of tentative connection: Indian-British contacts in the late nineteenth century’. India in Britain 1858-1950. Edited by Susheila Nasta. Palgrave Macmillan. 2013. pp. 12-27.
  • With Zoe Norridge and Charlotte Baker. ‘Tracing the Visible and the Invisible through African literature’. RAL 44.2 (2013). pp. v-xi.
  • ‘Foreword: Empire’s Vampires’. Dark Blood: Transnational and Postcolonial Vampires.  Eds. Tabish Khair and Johan Hagglund.  Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. pp. 1-3.
  • ‘Perspectives on the South African War’. Cambridge History of South African Literature. Ed. Derek Attridge and David Attwell. Cambridge UP. 2012. pp. 310-38.
  • With Susheila Nasta.  ‘Shaping Britain: Preface’.  South Asians and the shaping of Britain, 1870-1950: A Sourcebook  Eds. Ruvani Ranasinha et al.  Manchester: Manchester UP, 2012. pp. xv-xx  978-0-7190-8513-0
  • ‘J.M. Coetzee’s Australian Realism’.  Postcolonial Poetics: Genre and Form. Edited by Patrick Crowley and Jane Hiddleston.  Liverpool UP.  2011.  pp. 202-218. Shorter version in MLA study volume on Coetzee.  See above.
  • ‘Madiba Magic: Nelson Mandela’s Charisma’.  Political Leadership, Nations and Charisma.  Eds Margit Wunsch and Vivian Ibrahim.  Routledge. 2012. pp. 161-70.
  • ‘J.M. Coetzee’s Australian Realism’.  Strong Opinions: J.M. Coetzee and the Authority of Contemporary Fiction.  Eds. Chris Danta, Sue Kossew, Julian Murphet.  New York and London: Continuum, 2011.  pp. 3-18.
  • ‘The English Novel and the World’. End of Empire and the English Novel since 1945.  Eds. Bill Schwarz and Rachael Gilmore. Manchester UP. 2011. 239-43.
  • With Sumita Mukherjee.  ‘Re-making Britishness: Indians at Oxford at the Turn of the Century’.  Eds. Catherine McGlynn and Andrew Mycock.  Britishness, Identity and Citizenship: The View From Abroad.  London. Peter Lang. 2011. pp. 95-112.
  • ‘Modernism and Colonialism’.  Cambridge Companion to Modernism.  2nd edn.  Edited by Michael Levenson.  Cambridge UP.   2011. pp. 578-611.
  • ‘Katherine Mansfield as Colonial Modernist’.  Celebrating Katherine Mansfield: A Centenary Volume of Essays. Edited by Gerri Kimber and Janet Wilson.  Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2011. pp. 57-71.
  • ‘The Worlding of the Jingo Poem’.  Yearbook of English Studies 41.2 Special issue on Nineteenth Century Globalization.  Ed. Pablo Mukherjee. pp. 41-57.  Extended version published as 'Circulating Forms: The Jingo Poem at the Height of Empire'. English Language Notes 49.1.  Edited by Laura Winkiel. Spring/summer 2011. pp. 11-28.
  • ‘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. 
  • ‘Long Live!’ Foreword to Dambudzo Marechera: A Celebration.  Edited by Dobrota Pucherova and Julie Cairnie.  Oxford.  Boydell and Brewer. 2010.

Other Information

Elleke Boehmer holds an honorary doctorate from Linnaeus University, Sweden.

Elleke is the co-convenor with Professor Ankhi Mukherjee of the lively Oxford Postcolonial Seminar. Recent speakers include Emily Apter, Pheng Cheah, Hisham Mattar, and Malachi McIntosh.

Other Links

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