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Economy and Society

Kanakalatha Mukund

By Shireen Moosvi
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2008, pp. xxxv 302, Rs. 695.00


Perhaps no period or region in Indian history is as well documented as the Mughal period. The practice of Mughal rulers of maintaining personal records and autobiographies, the encouragement given to contemporary historians to write official biographies and histories, and, most of all, the gazetteer to top all gazetteers, Abul Fazl’s Ain-i-Akbari, all provide a wealth of detailed information about Mughal India that is of great value to scholars, especially economic historians. If one were to compare this with, for instance, Tamil Nadu in the medieval period, the main source of information is the large corpus of temple inscriptions. While these provide a great deal of localized information and enable an effective reconstruction of institutional arrangements and relationships, there is no possibility of constructing a macro-level picture of the economy in terms of the total area under agriculture, the extent of non-agricultural production, the volume of internal and external trade or taxation. Even the European records do not really permit such a macro-economic history. As an economic historian who grapples with the latter sources, I marvel at the possibilities offered by the Mughal sources, as well as the statistical skills of Shireen Moosvi in utilizing these possibilities so effectively. The work under review is a collection of her articles on the Mughal economy and society that were published between 1982 and 1999, representing nearly two decades of research and scholarship.   Moosvi begins with an Introduction in which she spells out in greater detail the issues which are discussed at length in the main book, like the impact of population growth on the agrarian system, the computation of gross domestic product, supply of capital and the ‘price revolution’ in the seventeenth century and so on. For instance, Moosvi argues that the long-term economic effects of population growth on the economy depend on the mode of extraction of agricultural surplus. If, as in Europe, the surplus is extracted as private rent, population growth may well lead to a Malthusian cycle of pressure on land, rising rents, falling subsistence levels and higher death rates. However if, as in the Mughal system, the surplus is extracted as tax on total agricultural produce, the effect would be quite different.   This is followed by the first section of the book with two monographs on the Mughal economy. The first is an ambitious overview of the economy of (Mughal) India between 1600 and 1900. Essentially this is concerned with a ...

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