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A Story of Economic Upheaval: India Under Colonial Rule

Amiya Kumar Bagchi

Edited by Binay Bhusan Chaudhuri
Centre for Studies in Civilizations, New Delhi, 2005, pp. xxxiv 853, Rs. 2650.00


The period between 1750 and 1950 witnessed an unparalleled development in human history. A small horde of invaders from a promontory of the Eurasian continent subjugated and systematically de-humanized the vast majority of mankind. That majority included the populations of China and India, the two most populous and hitherto the most commercialized countries of the world. Writing an economic history of India spanning the period from around the 1750s down to the end of the twentieth century is a daunting enterprise, for several reasons. First, the population is large and varied in economic organization, ways of living and relating to the state and the market. Second, the period spans 250 years—a period that has seen many dramatic changes in economic organization, technology, political fortunes and has been dotted with many wars, famines and pestilences. Third, much of the material going into this history remains to be properly collated and analysed. Fourth, there is much false propaganda masquerading as knowledge making the unwary reader take utter falsehoods as gospel truth.   It is laudable that the Project of History of Indian Science and Culture also included the task of writing a history of the material correlates of ‘Science, philosophy and culture’. The current volume is volume VIII, Part 3 of the ‘History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization’ under the general editorship of D.P. Chattopadhyaya. The volume is unwieldy to handle and costly as well for a researcher, who may not be interested in all the aspects covered, and even for students who might want a single-volume history of the period. It would have been far better to have divided it up into separate monographs, with Chaudhuri as the general editor.   Still, a volume that seeks to provide a connected account of the economic history of India from the early colonial period to the very end of the twentieth century is welcome. The articles on the colonial period are mainly devoted to the history of industry, trade, organization and the working class. However, there are papers devoted to agricultural development during the post-Independence period.   The volume opens with an evocative paper by David Ludden on the spatial, temporal and ecological framework in which he would like to situate the history of South India, but given the constraints of a paper even in such an oversized tome, he cannot satisfy the reader’s appetite. Still, his emphasis on the porosity of any through ...

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