Sanjay Subrahmanyam was born in New Delhi, and after finishing high school in 1977 from Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, went on to do all his college degrees (BA and MA in Economics) in the University of Delhi, where he also received his PhD in Economic History in 1987 at the Delhi School of Economics for his thesis on Trade and the Regional Economy of South India, c. 1550-1650. From 1983, he had begun to teach economic history and comparative economic development at the Delhi School of Economics, where he continued until 1995 as first Associate Professor (1989-93) and then Professor of Economic History (1993-95).
In these years, his interests broadened from economic and commercial history, to the study of the interplay of political and economic history, to the study of political culture and cultural history. This is already reflected in his first set of books: The Political Economy of Commerce: Southern India, 1500-1650 (Cambridge University Press, 1990), which is a revised version of his PhD; Improvising Empire: Portuguese Trade and Settlement in the Bay of Bengal, 1500-1700 (Oxford University Press, 1990); a joint work with V. Narayana Rao and David Shulman, Symbols of Substance: Court and State in Nayaka-period Tamilnadu (Oxford University Press, 1992), and The Portuguese Empire in Asia, 1500-1700: A political and economic history (Longman, 1993), a work of synthesis reflecting his interest in the history of the Iberian empires.
In the course of the 1990s, Subrahmanyam's work has embraced new sources and archives, not only those from South India, or of the Portuguese and Spanish empires and the Dutch and English East India Companies, but also materials reflecting his growing interest in the history of the Mughal empire, and the comparative history of early modern empires. This accompanied his move to Paris as Directeur d' incudes in the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, where his position from 1995-2002 was defined as 'Histoire onomique et sociale de l'Inde et de l'Ocn Indien, XVe-XVIIIe sies'. A second set of books reflects his later interests: The Mughal State, 1526-1750 edited jointly with Muzaffar Alam (Oxford University Press, 1998); The Career and Legend of Vasco da Gama (Cambridge University Press, 1998); Penumbral Visions: Making Polities in Early Modern South India (University of Michigan Press, 2001); and another joint work with V. Narayana Rao and David Shulman, Textures of Time: Writing History in South India, 1600-1800 (The Other Press, 2003).
In 2002, Subrahmanyam was appointed as the first holder of the newly created Chair in Indian History and Culture at the University of Oxford, where he was until joining UCLA in 2004. His most recent work, published by Oxford University Press, in 2004, is in 2 volumes, and is entitled Explorations in Connected History (Vol. I is entitled Mughals and Franks, and Vol. II bears the title From the Tagus to the Ganges). He is also the Joint Managing Editor of The Indian Economic and Social History Review, published from New Delhi. His current research includes a joint book, nearing completion, with Muzaffar Alam, on travel-writing in the Indo-Persian world from 1400 to 1800. He also continues to collaborate with V. Narayana Rao and David Shulman on other projects of cultural history relating to South India.
Sanjay Subrahmanyam teaches courses on medieval and early modern South Asian history; the history of European expansion, the comparative history of early modern empires, and world history.