Assistant Professor


  • Role:

  • Position:

    • Assistant Professor
  • Department:

    • English
  • Education:

    • PhD in English, University of Pennsylvania


Philip Tsang is the author of The Obsolete Empire: Untimely Belonging in Twentieth-Century British Literature (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2021). This book argues that a large part of the British empire’s history took place in the minds of distant readers who were by turns inspired, entranced, and agonized by English literature. Bringing together four major writers—Henry James, James Joyce, Doris Lessing, and V. S. Naipaul—Tsang traces an aesthetic of frustrated attachment that emerged in the wake of imperial contraction. Caught between an expansive Britishness and an exclusive Englishness, these writers suspend the sequential logic of the “decline and fall” of empire, and instead fashion an untimely aesthetic that arrests the linear progression from colonial to postcolonial, from empire to nation, and from subject to citizen. Paying overdue attention to the affective texture of empire, this book explores how literary reading sets in motion a complex interplay of intimacy and exclusion.

Ultimately, The Obsolete Empire asks: What does it mean to be inside or outside any given culture? How do large-scale geopolitical changes play out at the level of cultural attachment and political belonging? How does literary reading establish or unsettle narratives of who we are? These questions extend to Tsang's second book project, tentatively titled “Modern Literature and the Monolingual Ideal.” This project examines how a host of nineteenth- and twentieth-century writers, theorists, and translators both challenge and strengthen the ideology of monolingualism, which underpins theories of translation and world literature as well as commonplace notions like “mother tongue” and “native speaker.”



The Obsolete Empire: Untimely Belonging in Twentieth-Century British Literature. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2021.

The Limits of Cosmopolitanism, co-edited with Aleksandar Stevic. New York: Routledge, 2019.



“Enigmatic Forms.” Post45: Contemporaries, cluster on “Decolonize X?” (2021).

“At the Periphery of Time: Doris Lessing and the Historical Novel.” Modernism/modernity print plus volume 5, cycle 4 (2021).

“Negative Cosmopolitanism: The Case of V. S. Naipaul.” Twentieth-Century Literature, 66:2 (2020).

“Allegory of the Global Anglophone: Interconnectedness and Sublimity in Cloud Atlas.” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, 51:3 (2018).

“A Transcription of Impressions: The American Scene and the Jamesian Aesthetics of Lateness.” The Henry James Review, 35:3 (2014).


Book chapters

“Why Is the Patient English? Disidentification in Michael Ondaatje’s Fiction.” The Limits of Cosmopolitanism. New York: Routledge, 2019.


  • The Nineteenth-Century British Novel: Crime and Punishment (Fall 2021)

    This course will explore some of the most celebrated novels from nineteenth-century England. We will look at how Victorian writers like Dickens responded to the massive changes brought about by industrialism, urbanization, poverty, social reform, and imperial expansion. In particular, we will focus on the depiction of crime and punishment. Why are Victorian novelists so obsessed with criminals, prison, and violence? How does crime intersect with issues of gender, class, and national identity? Our novels will include Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton, Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit, Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and a few Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle.

  • Global Modernism (Fall 2021)

    The term “modernism” has traditionally referred to a canon of works produced in Europe during the interwar era, but recent scholarship has greatly expanded our understanding of modernism as a truly transnational movement, an interconnected phenomenon shaped by material, cultural, and geopolitical changes on a global scale. In this course, we will examine various approaches to global modernism: not only will we read a wide array of canonical as well as lesser-known works from across the world, but we will also explore how modernists understood themselves as global writers. How did they imagine time and space? How did they respond to such issues as immigration, exile, social reform, world war, imperialism, technology, and energy extraction? How was modernism constructed as a global discipline?

  • Literature and History of British India (Spring 2021)

    This course explores the complex history of British rule in the Indian subcontinent. We will cover the final decades of the East India Company, the 1857 rebellion and the subsequent transfer of power to the Crown, the nationalist movements of the early 20th century, and finally the dissolution of British rule in 1947 and the partition of the subcontinent into two independent states: India and Pakistan. By examining major literary works (from both England and India) as well as a wide range of historical documents, we will investigate such topics as imperial governance, surveillance and intelligence, penal power, English education, religion, ethnic violence, Orientalism, gender and sexuality, and the politics of memory.

  • Global Victorians (Spring 2021)

    The Victorian era is remembered for the extensive and diverse interactions between England and the rest of the world. Through imperial expansion and overseas trade, England exported its culture, customs, and laws to far-off places. At the same time, British merchants, travelers, and administrators imported foreign images and ideas back home. In this course, we will investigate the contours of nineteenth-century globalization, focusing on three questions:
    1) What were the material networks—economic, political, and military—through which the Victorians viewed the world?
    2) How did global explorations, encounters, and exchanges transform English culture?
    3) How did the Victorians distinguish themselves from non-British peoples?
    To answer these questions, we will study the remarkable careers of five Victorian celebrities: an explorer (Richard Francis Burton), a prime minister (Benjamin Disraeli), an ethnographer (Mary Kingsley), a political activist (Olive Schreiner), and a merchant seaman (Joseph Conrad). In addition, we will read George Eliot’s novel Daniel Deronda to explore the benefits and limits of Victorian cosmopolitanism.