Charted histories in colonial India, 1760-1900

Author: 
Barrow, Ian J.
Year: 
1998

     This dissertation explores the connections between colonial map making and history writing during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The focus is on South Asia, although the principles and arguments outlined here have broader applicability. The opposite questions of the dissertation are how early colonial surveyors articulated their vision of land in such a fashion that historians relied upon those perspectives for their understanding of wealth and power, and how later colonial historians expressed ideas regarding the past which partially determined the manner in which maps were made and comprehended.
     I use a series of thematic questions regarding the role of history and cartography in the making of nation-ness, to explore how the mapping of a foreign land, and its incorporation as territory within an expanding empire, helped to crystallize a sense of what it meant to be British. The four chapters break down and reconfigure the distinctions between Britain and its colonies, while nevertheless providing an analysis of the nuances and particularities of British mapping in India. The first chapter addresses the question of how the East India Company used maps to suggest that Bengal was owned in the same manner as a British landlord would own an estate. The second chapter argues that changing perspectives in surveying at the turn of the nineteenth century mirror changes in historiography. The third chapter explores the controversies surrounding the naming of Mount Everest, while the final chapter examines the use of maps to generate nostalgia in late Victorian India.

Advisor(s): 
Inden, Ronald, Cohn, Bernard
Department: