Essays in Modern Indian Economic History is part of a four-volume set, comprising representative articles of Indian History Congress Proceedings (1935-85). The essays in this volume provide an overview of the continuities and changes in the historians' approach to the economic aspects of 'modern' Indian history. In the agenda of economic historians, the problems uppermost have been the policies of the colonial state, the impact of metropolitan capitalism on colonial trade and industry, and in particular the evolution of land revenue systems in various regions. At the same time, many of the continuities from the pre-colonial period to the so-called modern period in terms of social institutions, political structures, and organization of production have engaged historians. This collection indicates how historical research in modern economic history has pushed beyond the study of colonial economic policies per se, into the processes internal to the economy and society under the impact of these policies-resulting in the development of a culturally and socially sensitive economic history.
Re-issued in a revised form to synchronize with the Platinum Jubilee celebrations of the Indian History Congress, the essays in this volume are accompanied by a new preface and an introduction that highlight the changing contours of emphasis, shifting focus/es and methodologies and projections of research, held under the aegis of the Indian History Congress.
Sabysachi Bhattacharya, former Professor of Indian Economic History, jawaharlal Nehru University (1975-2003), vice Chancellor, Visva-Bharati University, and Chairman, Indian Council of Historical research, is currently Tagore National fellow, Ministry of Culture, Government of India. His publications include The Foundations of the British Raj: Ideas and Interests in the Reconstruction of indian Public Finance 1858-1872, and Vande Mataram: The Biography of a Song. He has been a general editor of Towards freedom, the Cambridge Economic History India, vol. 2 and has also edited rethinking 1857. He was General president, Indian History Congress in 2004.
THE INDIAN History Congress has emerged as a representative organization for a large section of historians in India, providing its members with a forum to present their unpublished research work, using data from across the country. The annual sessions of the Indian History Congress are invariably attended by senior historians, who provide guidance to young researchers in their endeavours. In its multi-pronged activities, the Congress is perhaps one of the few organizations in India to provide a research and publication forum. To this end, it brings out an edited volume containing selection of the research articles presented at various sessions. In fact, it is the meticulous selection of essays and rigorous editing of the volumes that has given cause for the University Grants Commission to recognize these Proceedings to the level of a referred journal for the purposes of granting Promotion to college and university teachers under the Career Advancement scheme.
During its Golden Jubilee Celebrations in 1987, the Indian History Congress decided to publish three thematic volumes focusing on the Economic history of India. This three-volume set, entitled Indian History Congress golden Jubilee Year Publication Series together contained over a hundred essays, with an introduction by eminent historians. The series met with much success, as it provided a panoramic view of 50 years of changing focuses and emphases of scholars on art, religion, and society and issues related to the historical roots of economic backwardness and the resultant economic under-development in India's colonial past.
These volumes on economic history were also important from another perspective. While inaugurating the first session of the Indian History Congress 1935, Sir Shafa'at Ahmad Khan remarked that, 'economic history is almost virgin field: In the years following 1935, research in this area gathered depth and pace. In the subsequent decade and, in particular after Independence, considerable literature too was produced on the various aspects of the economic history of India. A nationalistic critique of colonialism during the process of decolonization was a major factor in developing interest in this topic. Meanwhile, since the mid-1950s the Marxist approach too gathered acceptance in the academic world of historians as an important factor in the explication of Historical development. Together, the twin discourses of nationalist critique and Marxist approach became important contributory factors for a heightened interest in the economic aspects of India's historical past.
In challenging the imperialist historiography, Indian historians evolved Considerable interest in studying society, religion, and art. They posited that Indian cultural past was essentially composite in nature and different communities lived side by side in a spirit of syncretism. In doing so, historians also examined the nature of religious identities and their role in shaping the contours of societal developments in our past.
Prints of the 1987 three-volume set were soon exhausted. Keeping in view their usefulness and steady demand among scholars as well as students, the Executive Committee of the 71st Session of the Indian History Congress, at University of Gour Banga, Malda, West Bengal, decided to reprint the three volumes, possibly with a new introduction by their respective editors. To this end, I am grateful to Professor Satish Chandra, Professor Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, and Professor B.D. Chattopadhyaya for contributing substantial pieces for the new editions. And, it is indeed a pleasure to have these volumes released as a part of the preparations for the celebrations of the Platinum Jubilee Session of the Congress.
WHEN i was requested to write a Introduction to the second edition of the Essays in Modern Indian Economic History which I had edited twenty-five years ago, my first reaction was that it would be better to put together a new volume of selected papers submitted at the History Congress since 1985. However, as there is continuing demand for this volume, covers the period 1935 to 1985, I have decided to say a few words about recent research by way of an Introduction to the present volume. I must add, however, that the Introduction I wrote for the earlier edition of this volume needs to be read along with the few pages I am now persuaded to add.
The question I want to address here is the following: Has there been a decline in scholarly interest in economic history? This complaint, or you may call it a lament, has often been heard over the last decade or two. In the decades preceding 1985, there was a huge spate of research in Indian economic history. It was then a new specialization. When, in 1935, Sir Shafa'at Ahmad, in his Presidential Address at the founding session of the Indian History Congress said that 'economic history is almost a virgin field; he was referring to an area of research that has begun to attract many young researchers. Several factors were responsible for promoting an interest in economic history. In late colonial India the Nationalist intellectuals, R.C. Dutt and Dadabhai Naoroji onwards, had focused upon the economic exploitation of India. That critique of colonialism was, by and large, limited to the nationalist public spokesmen, and it filtered down to the groves of academe only much later. One sees it in academic research in the post-independence years. An altogether new interest an economic history was generated when, after 1947, researchers began to address themselves to the issues raised by Naoroji or Dutt or M.G. Ranade. you may also recall a global trend that emerged in the process of decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s in Asia and Africa. There was heightened interest in the issue of economic under-development-which led to a search for the historical roots of economic backwardness. In post-independence India, specially during the Nehruvian regime, an additional factor was the intense discourse on economic growth and national level planning and policy taking, Further, the Marxist approach, with its emphasis on economic factors 1 the explication of historical development, began to be accepted in the academic world-quite contrary to the earlier trend when the Marxian approach was, more often than not, ignored as a 'politically inspired' and artisan approach. There was, thus, an unusually high level of engagement in research in economic history between the 1950s and the 1980s. Thereafter it was but natural that the high quantum of research in a specialization should level off; that is not necessarily evidence of decline.
Perhaps a more important reason is that in recent years the agenda of economic history has changed. The staple tools of the trade of economic historians used to be histories of public finance, domestic and foreign trade and balance of payments; principles of land revenue collection and tenurial relations; growth of railways and factories; banking and monetary history; sectoral distribution of the working population, and so forth. These are things which matter and justifiably continue to be subjects of study, but there are also other themes which have acquired a new importance. To mention just a few of: agro-ecology and environmental history affecting in the long-term primary sector activities in cultivation, forest and water resource exploitation; demographic factors bearing upon the 'carrying capacity' of land from the stage of hunting and gathering to sedentary agriculture; the expansion of the agrarian frontier with the enlargement of cultivated land area along with population; mortality, morbidity, life expectancy, family structure, etc. affecting the economically active population; the social traditions determining certain rights such as forest rights, or rights of pasturage, or use of the village commons; the influence of caste not only in obvious ways such as agrestic servitude or bondage, but in other ways as well, as in the transmission of artisanal skills or modes of operation of merchant communities; social and cultural aspects of the life of the urban working class, not only as labouring men but also as part of social networks in their habitation sites; the socio-political movements which formed a part of peasant resistance to economic exploitation and social exclusion. Thus, various .non-economic factors bearing upon economic life in the broadest sense of the term have been focused upon in recent studies. That is not to say that these factors were not important in earlier literature but new research in recent years was much more focused on these aspects. It would have been useful to discuss the works of research which instantiates and illustrates these trends. In my Introduction to the expanded Indian edition (2005) of the Cambridge Economic History of India, vol. II, edited by Dharma Kumar and Meghnad Desai, I have reviewed this literature with bibliographic details. Readers who are interested may consult that review of literature. It is neither necessary nor possible to repeat that exercise here.
It was perhaps not fortuitous that while new aspects of economic life in the past began to be examined, many economists began to look beyond things 'purely' economic. This change was reflected in the new emphasis on the 'quality of life' which is now commonly used as an index of development, side by side with conventional growth indices like the GDP. This change in approach was also reflected in the discourse of 'development' as distinct from economic growth. As Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze have said in their recent work, An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions (2013), 'the relationship between growth and development-their difference as well as their complementarity' has become a central theme with contemporary economists. Hence, Sen and Dreze recommend the inclusion, in the economists' agenda of research, social institutions, formation of knowledge and skills through education, level of nutrition, access to health care and its demographic consequences, and even political systems such as democracy or its antipodal alternatives. Parallel with this expansion in the ambit of economic thinking, one can see an expansion of the domain of economic history in recent times. Arguably, this new turn in economic history was implicitly anticipated by economic historians who made the study of the Political Economy their agenda. Or again, when Marc Bloch spoke of total history; he was beyond doubt pointing to the interconnectedness which the new agenda of research seeks to reveal in relation to economic life.Thus, the endeavours we have referred to are in part new, but also, in part a return to an old tradition of looking at the past.
To sum it up, the frontiers of the discipline of economic history have expanded in recent years. That is not a sign of the 'decline' of economic history, but a challenge to which the practitioners of that discipline must respond. Failure to do so might have been the signal of a decline; there is no evidence of such a failure in the publications since the late 1980s.
I am happy that the early explorations in economic history, of which some Fragments are collected in this volume, are again being presented to a new generation of historians on the occasion of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the foundation of the Indian History Congress.
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