Tyler Williams

Tyler Williams
Associate Professor
Foster Hall 210
Office Hours: Thursdays, 12:30pm to 1:30pm On Leave WQ SQ 2024
Ph.D. in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies, Columbia University, 2014. M.Phil. in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies, Columbia University, 2011. M.Phil. in Hindi Literature, Jawaharlal Nehru University, 2007. M.A. in Hindi
Research Interests: South Asian literature, book history, and digital humanities


My research focuses on the philological and historical study of literary and religious texts in early modern north India (ca. 1300-1800 CE)—in particular those composed in the languages now known as Hindi/Hindavi/Urdu. I am particularly interested in the relationship between the form and function of material texts—i.e. manuscripts, including their production, circulation, and use in performance—and the generic, aesthetic, and performative character of the literary and religious works that they contain. My research also touches upon more general issues of literary and visual aesthetics in both the precolonial and postcolonial periods.

I am currently completing a monograph on the history of writing in Hindi before the establishment of print technology, exploring various ideologies of language and their relationship to actual embodied practices of inscription and reading in different literary and religious traditions between the late fourteenth and the late eighteenth centuries. I am also pursuing a research project on the role of north Indian merchant communities in establishing and popularizing bhakti religiosity and vernacular literature in the region and their contribution to the development of distinctly modern ways of thinking and being during the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries.

While at the University of Chicago I have had the pleasure of working with several Ph.D. and M.A. students researching topics as diverse as African communities in precolonial and contemporary South Asia, the formation of geographic knowledge and surveying expertise in colonial India, the relationship between history and theater in colonial India, and the aesthetics of theater, performance and memory in postcolonial South Asia.


“The Ties That Bind: Individual, Family and Community in Northwestern Bhakti.” In Bhakti and Power: Debating India’s Religion of the Heart. Edited by John S. Hawley, Christian Lee Novetzke, and Swapna Sharma. Seattle: University of Washington Press, forthcoming summer 2019.

“Between the Lines and in the Margins: Commentary and Impagination in an Early North Indian Vernacular.” In World Philology: Impagination. Edited by Glen Most, Kevin Chang, and Anthony Grafton. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, forthcoming fall 2019.

"If the whole world were paper..." A History of Writing in the North Indian Vernacular.” History and Theory 57, no. 4 (December 2018): 81-101.

"Notes of Exchange: Scribal Practices and Vernacular Religious Scholarship in Early Modern North India." Manuscript Studies: A Journal of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies 3, no. 2 (2018): 265-301.

Texts and Traditions in Early Modern North India. Co-edited with John S. Hawley and Anshu Malhotra. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2018.

“Commentary as Translation: the Vairāgya Vṛnd of Bhagvandas Niranjani.” In Texts and Traditions in Early Modern North India, edited by Tyler Williams, John S. Hawley and Anshu Malhotra. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2018.


  • Destruction of Images, Books & Artifacts in Europe and South Asia (graduate seminar taught with Olga Solovieva)
  • South Asian Aesthetics: Rasa to Rap, Kamasutra to Kant (undergraduate/graduate seminar)
  • Hindi (third year/fourth year/advanced reading)
  • Media Aesthetics: Text (undergraduate core seminar)
Subject Area: Hindi