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Mapping European Interpretations


Namrata R. Ganneri

INSURGENT SEPOYS: EUROPE VIEWS THE REVOLT OF 1857
Edited by Shaswati Mazumdar
Routledge, New Delhi, 2011, pp.xi + 305, Rs. 795.00

VOLUME XXXVI NUMBER 10 OCTOBER 2012

The Rebellion of 1857 has elicited a relentless flow of academic and popular responses, scholarly as well as polemical works, though unarguably, the fiftieth (1907), hundredth (1957) and hundred and fiftieth anniversaries (2007) have generated exemplary interventions on the nature, internal contradictions as well as inhering diversities of 1857.1 The book under review is the outcome of a research project, supported by the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), and originated in the Department of Germanic and Romance Studies of the University of Delhi, following the 150th anniversary commemorations with an aim to map the European interpretation of the conflict. While students of history, undoubtedly, are acquainted with Karl Marx's articles on the Rebellion written for the American public in The New York Daily Tribune, as well as with the strident criticism of British atrocities voiced by Chartist Ernest Jones, yet global reception of the events of 1857 is a theme rather under-exposed to the historian's gaze. The eighteen essays in this volume, spread over two sections entitled 'News and Views' and 'Fact and Fiction', address literary and media responses to 1857 in eight European languages. 'News and Views' offers glimpses of multifarious reports that appeared in prominent European newspapers-those published in England's arch imperial rival, France, 'emerging nations' like Germany and Italy, an 'old' colonial power, Spain and even in countries themselves awaiting independent nationhood, the Czech, Bulgaria and Hungary. The contributors underscore that most presses drew their material primarily from British newspapers, yet they did opine on British colonial exploitation and reflected on the causes and implications of the uprising. The essays, nonetheless, largely preclude any assumption of a unified response even within individual countries, emphasizing instead that interpretations emanated from contemporary internal debates, or sought to align the former with their unique political interests. Chiara Cherubini's article, 'Freedom and Democracy: The Revolt in the Italian Press' for instance shows that newspapers were divided along the three major currents of Italian political debates: the conservative mouthpiece hit back at the British whom it accused of differential ideals professed for Europe and the colonial possessions; the moderates, representing the constitutional monarchy of Piedmont-Sardinia looked upon the British as an ally and hence uncritically translated from British reports; the democrats despite their uneasiness with British colonial expansion eventually pronounced Indians incapable of 'national consciousness' and hence independent rule. The 'Eurocentrism' of this vision is fairly explicit. Any attempt to compare these events with the Polish, Hungarian, Italian ...


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