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Print Culture of Empire

Anirudh Deshpande

By Chandrika Kaul
Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York, 2003, pp. 302, £16.99 (paperback) and £49.99 (hardbound).


The British established their Indian Raj by various means including the sword but undoubtedly they secured it with modern means of communication. Ruling India from distant London was a difficult and complex affair in which the press came to play a critical role specially from the mid-nineteenth century. How serious was the role of the press in the management of Empire can be gauged by the claim that the press often creates its own reality. But this is mostly a subjective reality. Hence it can be argued that substantial colonial policy emanated from the perceptions of the Raj conveyed and cemented by the press both in England and India. How motivated, manipulated, ideological and, above all,  hegemonic could many of these perceptions be is explored in depth by Reporting the Raj. This admirable volume scrutinizes a medium of information considered a legitimate historical source by all historians of British imperialism and colonial India. What do we make of the “print culture of empire in Britain” as historians is the central question Kaul addresses in this volume. However, while tackling this question the author consciously keeps aloof from viewing the British press primarily as a literary means of creating an image of the East for British and western readers in general.      The British Empire comprised the most far flung imperial system after the Industrial Revolution. It was the first empire in the long history of imperialism which made extensive use of the telegraph and press in the making of its own denouement. Reporting the Raj researches, to use John M. MacKenzie’s words, “the relationship between press and empire” and constitutes a valuable addition to the overall historiography of British colonialism in India. It has been published at a time when historians of modern India are busy focussing their attention on the ‘cultural turn’ their subject has taken since the 1980s. Needless to add that any capable history of ideas is welcome here. Reporting the Raj has been published as part of a larger series of the Manchester University Press called Studies in Imperialism. This well conceived project is predicated upon “the belief that imperialism as a cultural phenomenon had as significant an effect on the dominant as on the subordinate societies.” Located in such a dialectical paradigm of imperial-colonial relations and impacts the volume being reviewed will come in handy to Indian historians pursuing a variety of subjects ranging from ...

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