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Governance and Knowledge


A. Gangatharan

SURVEYING AND MAPPING IN COLONIAL SRI LANKA
By Ian J. Barrow
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2008, pp. xii 211, Rs. 595.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 10 October 2008

It is obvious that in this age of information, accumulation of knowledge is integral to the question of domination if not of survival. Accumulation of knowledge about the local terrain and its geography are central to the establishment of imperial domination. The physical governance of a colony for economic expropriation is largely possible with the systematic maintenance of land registers, cadastral survey reports and other detailed topographical maps. Preparation of these charts, reports and cartographic documents involve a flurry of activities ranging from manual survey of the land to meticulous documentation, which cannot be accomplished without the aid of the centrally administered agencies, what we may call the Survey Department or the land record office. Therefore the enumeration of the story of survey activities in South Asia refers to the indelible history of colonial domination from its initial occupation to final control.   A perusal of the pre-colonial historiography in South Asia testifies to the fact that poor maintenance of land revenue policies and records led to the downfall of almost all the major political empires and kingdoms.The East India Company was the only successful empire builder in South Asia, which undertook the task of surveying every inch of the land with all its details for administrative purposes, thereby establishing its grip over the physical landscape.   Ian J. Barrow’s impressively entitled monograph offers an interesting account about the establishment of the Survey Department and its development in 19th century colonial Sri Lanka. As a historian of the cartography of South Asia, he has published a monograph on Map Making and Drawing Territories in British India, thereby bringing the study of maps into the ambit of historical analysis. Written in a racy but recondite style the author sets out a broader framework to explain the nuanced nature of colonial state and the strategic importance of the Survey Department in aiding the metropolitan interests.   Colonial expansion was not a disjointed phenomenon. Changes in science and technology played a vital role and entailed the movement and transfer of ideas thereby widening the scope of imperial domination. In spite of its inner contradiction colonialism came to have a great deal of influence on every conceivable human existence—both the body and mind, the colonizer and colonized—and it involved a set of structures and discourses which, when taken together, may provide an imbricated view of domination in its myriad forms. Therefore colonial science ...


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