I am a researcher in literature with expertise in travel writing, race, and sexuality.
My work on travel began with a study of British women’s travel to Greece in the long nineteenth century and the complicity of feminist movements with discourses of racism and Orientalism (Mahn 2012). A recurring theme in this work was how the tangible heritage of Greece was whitewashed as ‘European’ while Greece’s intangible heritage was represented as irrecoverably corrupted by Ottoman occupation and the influence of Islam. This work combined research on the Classics, emerging humanities disciplines such as Geography and Ethnography, literary studies, and women non-fiction writers interested in race and politics. By using travel writing as a genre which connected these disparate figures (who were often connected through shared voyages and itineraries), I produced the first major study of how British women co-operated with, and through some feminist thinking sometimes resisted, the construction of (ancient) Greek heritage as part of a white, western world. My work on ethnography, maps and areas with Islamic influence led to my selection as one of the AHRC/British Council UnBox Fellows for 2013 and a subsequent impact-led grant on how to rehabilitate one of Punjab’s historic Mughal-era gardens to public memory (PI, AHRC, A Punjabi Palimpsest).
Since then, my work has continued to be focused on the intersection of race and travel, with a special focus on interactions with the Muslim world. My work on Punjab and the run-up to Partition, along with its aftermath, was informed by how folk culture had been (mis)represented in the accounts of British colonial folklorists and anthropologists who had key roles in influencing colonial policies that created official social categories which did not accommodate the complexity of real social structures (Malik, Mahn, et al 2020; Mahn 2017). This work led to two collaborations with organisations working with Punjabi heritage as part of the AHRC grant Creative Interruptions. This large 3-year grant was awarded as part of the Connected Communities programme and was based on collaborative and co-designed research and impact.
Alongside this work, I have a long-standing interest in queer theory which originates from my work on Jane Ellen Harrison’s reading of pre-modern matriarchal cultures alongside the popularity of Greece as a destination of key queer thinkers and activists from the nineteenth century. I have written on the relative absence of queer theory and critical engagement with sexuality in the field of travel writing (Mahn 2015) and am currently working on a book project about queer of colour writing about travel. I have delivered equalities-led research on this issue in an AHRC grant (PI, States of Desire) which aimed to address how queer lives could be recognised and supported in a leading anti-racist refugee organisation which struggled to reconcile cultural differences to LGBTQ+ identities within the organisation (Mahn, Milne, et al 2019). I am also currently working on a smaller project on researching the lives of queer South Asian migrants to the UK (PI, British Academy, Cross-Border Queers).
British Academy - Cross-Border Queers: The Story of South Asian Migration to the UK (with Dr Rohit Dasgupta, University of Glasgow)
AHRC EDI Fellowship