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Situating Historical Processes


Venkata Raghotham

EXPLORATIONS IN CONNECTED HISTORY: FROM THE TAGUS TO THE GANGES; EXPLORATIONS IN CONNECTED HISTORY: MUGHULS AND FRANKS
By Sanjay Subrahmanyam
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005, pp. x 264 & xii 232, Rs. 575.00 each

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 7 July 2005

The two volumes entitled Explorations in Connected History by Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Professor of Indian History and Culture, Oxford University, is a set of 16 papers covering the geographical area of the Eurasian landmass and chronologically the period from the advent of the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean in the late fifteenth century till the end of the eighteenth. This complex period demands a challenging repertoire of languages and a mastery over the grand narratives of nation states such as Portugal, Spain, France and, of course, England. In the historiography of the early modern phase of European history, this period is usually glossed as the “expansion of Europe”. Subrahmanyam has used historical sources in Portuguese, Italian, Persian, French, and Dutch to describe and reconstruct the pattern of interaction between Indian merchants, princes, warriors and traders, adventurers and priests from the Iberian Peninsula and other parts of Europe.   The themes covered by the volumes under review have been the mainstay of the historical writings on the encounter between Europe and India: A triumphant West and an increasingly fractious India whose connected histories constituted the rhetoric of the expansion of Europe or more recently the core/periphery dichotomy of the World Systems Theory. Sanjay Subrahmanyam’s two volumes offer a welcome departure from these perspectives and provide a glimpse of a complex world in which developments in Renaissance Europe were contingent upon lessons learnt in Asia particularly in India and China. Like Antony Pagden, Sanjay Subrahmanyam too is sensitive to the cluster of ideas, images, and concepts that found expression in ideologies of imperial might which invoked the language of decadence to justify aggressive political and economic dominance. The time honoured method of studying the Asian world as passive, inert object over which Europe fulfills its destiny, historical and spiritual, is rejected in favour of one that situates events and historical processes in their specific political and cultural contexts.   The Indian Ocean and its littoral are studied in these volumes against the background of changes taking place all over the Eurasian landmass. It is the recognition that the history of India cannot be seen in isolation of the main threads of historical developments emanating in different regions that makes these volumes particularly significant. Abjuring the quaint certitudes of the “imperialist” and “nationalist” historiographies, Subrahmanyam is consciously building what is a new approach to the vexed problem of transition to modernity in India and the ...


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