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Nuanced Urban Processes

Meena Bhargava

By Yogesh Sharma  & Pius Malekandathil
Primus Books, New Delhi, 2014, pp. x 822, Rs. 2195.00


Cities in Medieval India, a voluminous anthology, is an outcome of academic discussions on the theme of urbanization in premodern India at two separate colloquia held at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi between March 2008 and March 2009. The volume brings together essays that focus on different aspects of medieval cities, in particular urban centres, with some essays analysing the rural-urban continuum and divide, culture, small towns and qasbas. Rajat Datta, for instance, talks about the interface between India’s early modern rural and urban economies not as separate enclaves in a dualistic manner but as active components of an integrated early modern economy in India during the 17th and the 18th centuries. Invoking Max Weber, Henri Pirenne, Maurice Dobb, Paul Sweezy and Fernand Braudel, Pius Malekandathil in the ‘Introduction’ suggests that while historians and sociologists argue that cities are indicators of economic growth, they have also tried to look at the nuanced nature of urban processes corresponding to it. Recently there have been attempts to look at medieval cities from the perspective of cultural formation and to introduce urban identities and city-forms as cultural constructions. Many historical geographers and historians like Michel Foucault, Henri Lefebvre and Edward Soja have emphasized on the ‘production of space’ and argued that the spatial processes involved in the construction of the urban units can be examined and analysed to decode the intentions of the human agents and the extent of their realizations. Discussing the historiography on medieval Indian cities, Malekandathil rightly suggests that the debate was initiated by Muhammad Habib, carried further with a medley of differences and agreements by Irfan Habib, B.D. Chattopadhyaya and R. Champakalakshmi. K.M. Ashraf, H.K. Naqvi and W.H. Moreland focused on what constituted a medieval Indian town and their economic progress while the research on the cityscape of medieval India by scholars like S.C. Misra, Shireen Moosvi, R.E. Frykenberg, Stephen Blake, Shama Mitra Chenoy, Satish Chandra, K.S. Mathew, Aniruddha Ray, Sinnappah Arsaratnam, K.K. Trivedi, I.P. Gupta, J.S. Grewal and Indu Banga boosted the study of urban history. Acknowledging the erudite contributions of these historians, the historiographical discussion, however, leaves out some prominent ones, to name a few—S. Nurul Hasan, C.A. Bayly, Ebba Koch, Peter Jackson, Sunil Kumar—who have studied town-building and its many aspects. The works of these scholars, though, have been ...

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