Rosane Rocher is a Sanskritist and a historian of Indology, and a Professor Emerita of South Asia Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where she served as department chair, director of the National Resource Center for South Asia, and founding director of the Program in Asian American Studies. She and her husband, Ludo Rocher, the late W. Norman Brown Professor Emeritus of South Asia Studies at the same institution, were jointly awarded the 2015 prize of the Fondation Colette Caillat of the Institut de France “for their latest two joint books, The Making of Western Indology: Henry Thomas Colebrooke and the East India Company (2012) and Founders of Western Indology: August Wilhelm von Schlegel and Henry Thomas Colebrooke in Correspondence 1820–1837 (2013), and for their lifelong, signal contributions to Sanskrit studies and the history of Indology.” She is currently the president of the Ludo and Rosane Rocher Foundation, which fosters American scholarship on classical Indology.
How did you first hear of the Society?
I cannot recall how and when I first heard of the Society. It was an inherent part of my veering from western Classics to Indology as a double M.A. student and Ph.D. candidate at the Free University of Brussels in my native Belgium. The first time I had an active engagement with the Society was when I conducted research for my first biography of an Indologist, Alexander Hamilton, who was an original member of the Society.
What encouraged you to join?
Colebrooke! Kit Naylor, a pillar of the RAS and a descendant of its founder, H.T. Colebrooke, sought advice from fellow members of the Society about a scholar who might examine Colebrooke’s papers in his possession and evaluate their potential interest. I was the happy recipient of his invitation. My husband, an admirer of Colebrooke’s work on Hindu law, who had long wondered where the Colebrooke family papers might be, was as enthusiastic as I was. To us, they were manna from heaven! Kit put the papers on temporary deposit at the RAS so that I might examine them at leisure. I spent a summer going through them at the Society, then in Queen Anne Street, where I became acquainted with the staff and visitors. The Society became a living entity, which it was natural I joined.
What would you say are the benefits of being a fellow of the RAS?
For an overseas member like me, the RAS is a port-of-call, to which I pay a visit every time I am in London, even when no project of mine requires it. From a distance, its lectures (now on Zoom), its journal, and other publications keep me informed of scholarly trends in the UK. I also believe that it behoves scholars of Asia to support and expand the continuing mission of the RAS. The Society is at a point of inflection. The last generation of returned colonial servants who constituted most of its initial membership is dwindling. At the same time, increased global mobility has fostered in the UK the growth of generations of people who maintain an interest in the histories and cultures of their Asian forebears.
What is your favourite item from the RAS collections?
The Archives, every little bit of them! Since the Colebrooke biography, I have had occasion repeatedly to consult them for my latest biographies of Indologists, For the Sake of the Vedas: The Anglo-German Life of Friedrich Rosen 1805–1837 (2020) and A shunned Indologist: Ludwig Poley 1805–1885 (in final draft). The RAS staff has been of wonderful support, responding to queries and keeping scholarship served during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ludo and Rosane Rocher Foundation