English Research Seminars Series – Dr Geoff Nash – Wednesday 17th February
“William Gifford Palgrave: Master of Disguise”
Drawing on the National Portrait Gallery’s current display, Geoff Nash, looks at the extraordinary life of the leading British explorer and scholar of the Middle East, William Gifford Palgrave (1826-1888), assessing his adoption of disguise, and his reputation as a ‘brilliant failure’. After serving for a time in the Indian army, Palgrave converted to Roman Catholicism and worked as a missionary in southern India until 1853. He began his long engagement with the Arab world in 1855 as a missionary in Syria, where he witnessed the persecution of Syrian Christians. Palgrave’s most notable achievement lay in exploring Arabia, which had for years been closed to Europeans. In 1862 and 1863 he became the first Westerner to cross Arabia by a diagonal route, from north-west to south-east, travelling in disguise and at great risk as a European. A deep interest in identity, whether racial, national and religious is made evident in Palgrave’s writings, his propensity for disguise and by his multiple name changes.
Dr Geoffrey Nash is interested in European writing that has cultural links with the Middle East and has published widely. His research interests are Orientalism and Nineteenth Century Orientalists, Travel Writing about the Middle East, Arab Anglophone fiction and autobiography, and Islamic themes in contemporary English fiction. His books include Travellers to the Middle East from Burckhardt to Thesiger: An Anthology and From Empire to Orient, Travellers to the Middle East.
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