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Chronicling a Publishing House


Suguna Ramanathan

EMPIRES OF THE MIND: A HISTORY OF THE OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS IN INDIA UNDER THE RAJ
By Rimi B. Chatterji
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 450, Rs. 795.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 6 June 2006

Reading this extremely well researched and lucidly written study took me back to the 1950s in what was then Bombay when small volumes bound in dark blue, the World’s Classics, were there to be bought, and one wondered in one’s ignorance whether the motto on the crest was to be read downwards (Dominus illuminatio mea) or across (Dommina nustio illumea!). Thacker’s Bookshop was just across the road from Elphinstone College, and Taraporevala’s down Hornby Road, darker, mustier, but full of treasures. Hours of pleasurable browsing. Hours too of study. Who would have thought that H.G, Rawlinson, whose history of India was our school textbook, and Vincent Smith, who was recommended reading, would figure so largely in this study? I had no idea then that they had any existence outside the examination for which I was preparing myself.   This is a very impressive volume and not only because it generated nostalgia waves in this reader. Rarely does a doctoral thesis evince simultaneously such a sense of style, so much feeling for the excitement emerging from long forgotten business letters, so sure a grasp of a huge mass of material, and so clear an understanding of the way an ancient university press (which “is not and has never been a commercial institution”) came to terms with both business ventures and empire building. The study moves from the 15th century when the first volume was printed in Oxford through a Royal Charter that permitted the setting up of a press and the printing of Bibles; the Clarendon Press which was in fact the Oxford University Press under another name; the tussle in Victorian times for ‘pure’ scholarship (Mark Pattison) and influential saleable titles (Benjamin Jowett), the establishing of branch offices and their complex financial arrangements with the mother house at Amen Corner in London and later Amen House, OUP’s petering out in India after the Second World War, and finally, the vibrant revival 30 years after Independence to its position of strength as a leading academic publisher in India today.   A word about the readership for this volume. It is meant primarily for those interested in the history of publishing in English in India, including English Literature scholars engaged in the sociology of the text, an increasing tribe in this country. It is also of interest to students of the Raj. But the excellent writing, the apt epigraphs ...


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