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Intricate Relationships

Shyamala A. Narayan

Edited by Simon Davies , Daniel Sanjiv Roberts and Gabriel Sanchez Espinosa 
Voltair Foundation  and Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment Series, 2014, pp. 341, £65.00


The long eighteenth century was a period of major transformation of the relations between India and Europe, with the advent of imperialism. The English justified colonialism by claiming that oriental despotism was replaced by moral and enlightened government. This claim has long been countered by critiques of imperialism. Some of the earliest of these criticisms emerged as early as the eighteenth century, from what may be termed the peripheries of empire, from Irish statesmen and journalists such as Edmund Burke and William Duane, or from the mythologizing of French imperial figures like Dupleix as purveyors of a superior French system of colonialism. There are also the perspectives of Scottish and Welsh participants who contributed to the British Empire. Over the past three decades, historians have paid greater attention to the influence of economic structures and commercial operations on the advancement of empire. This volume contains selected papers from a symposium held at Queen’s University Belfast in 2011, organized by the Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies, along with additional invited contributions. The fourteen articles here, informed by recent developments in literary and historical scholarship, reveal that in spite of its great success, the imperial presence in India was riven by criticisms, contradictions and contestations. François Bernier’s Travels in the Mogul Empire 1656–1668 (1670) and The History of the Late Revolution of the Empire of the Great Mogol (1671) contain the earliest comments on India and the West; though Bernier was impressed by Aurangzeb’s wealth and power (‘I doubt whether there be any king in the world that hath more of gold, silver and precious stones’), he was sure that a French army of twenty-five thousand men ‘would trample under foot’ the Moghul’s vast army. One finds the same complex attitude to India in later writings. Raynal’s Histoire des deux Indes, the first history of European trade and colonization in India and the New World, was based on published accounts and personal interviews; he had no direct experience of India. Its three editions of 1770, 1774 and 1780 were bestsellers, and translated into all the European languages. The first article here, ‘A View From Afar: India in Raynal’s Histoire des deux Indes’ by Anthony Strugnell reveals how this work was not a simple compilation; the information drawn from English sources was reworked to take on ‘a new and distinctive hue, one in which national ambitions would vie with the universalizing pretensions of the ...

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