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An Earthly Paradise (Trade, Politics and Culture in Early Modern Bengal)

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Item Code: AZA196
Publisher: Manohar Publishers And Distributors
Author: Raziuddin Aquil and Tilottama Mukherjee
Language: English
Edition: 2020
ISBN: 9789388540919
Pages: 612
Other Details 8.8 x 5.8 inches
Weight 902 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

This collection of articles on varied facets of early modern Bengal showcases state of the art in the field and hopes to encourage new research. The essays explore the trading networks, religious traditions, artistic and literary patronage, and politico-cultural practices that emerged in roughly sixteenth-eighteenth centuries. Using a wide array of sources, the contributors to this volume, coming from diverse academic affiliations, and including several young researchers, have attempted to address various historiographical black holes' bringing in new material and interpretations.

Early modern Bengal's history tends to get overshadowed by the later developments of the nineteenth century. What this assortment of articles highlights is that this period needs to be studied afresh, and in depth. The region underwent rapid transformations as it got politically integrated with Northern India and its empires and economically with extensive global economic networks. Combined with its unique geography, the trajectory of this region in all spheres manifest an almost constant interplay of local and extra-local forces - be it in literature, art, economic domain, political and religious cultures - and considerable enterprise and ingenuity.

Thus, a variety of themes - including travel accounts, Portuguese and Arakanese presence, early Dutch, French, Ostend companies' forays into the region, artistic production in the Nizamat and later collections of art and missionaries, the English company state's intrusions in local economy in salt and raw silk production and indigenous reactions and rebellions, consumption practices related to religious activities, circulation and translation of texts, representation of women in vernacular writings, and organization of religious traditions - have been analysed in this volume, with a wide ranging introduction tying up the themes to the broader historiographical issues and contexts.

The collection will be an invaluable reference tool for students and scholars of history, especially of early modern India and Bengal. Raziuddin Aquil is Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Delhi. He was previously Fellow in History, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. His most recent book is Lovers of God: Sufism and the Politics of Islam in Medieval India (Manohar). Tilottama Mukherjee teaches in the Department of History, Jadavpur University, Kolkata. She is the author of Political Culture and Economy in Eighteenth-Century Bengal: Networks of Exchange, Consumption and Communication (Orient Blackswan).


This rich collection of essays on early modern Bengal is a part of a series of edited volumes that Manohar, New Delhi, has started to bring out. Covering the history of medieval and early modern India from the eighth to the eighteenth centuries, the series aims to bring to light current research on different aspects of the polity, society, economy, religion and culture. The thematically organized volumes particularly serve as a platform for younger scholars to highlight their research and, thus, reflect current thrusts in the study of the period. Established experts in their specialized fields also join in to share their work and provide perspectives. The geographical limits are the historic Indian subcontinent, corresponding to modern South Asia and the adjoining regions. A recent volume of this series was co-edited with David Curley: Literary and Religious Practices in Medieval and Early Modern India (2016)

I am grateful to my co-editor for this volume, Dr Tilottama Mukherjee of Jadavpur University, Kolkata, for collaborating with me in bringing together this diverse collection. It is through her academic connections in Bengal and abroad that several contributors have joined in this project. The volume covers myriad themes in political practices, commercial enterprise and religious traditions in the region of Bengal in the early modern period (sixteenth-eighteenth centuries). The volume not only showcases some of the new research that is happening on the history of early modern Bengal but, I am sure, will also help in generating further interest in this period's history.

The editors would like to thank the contributors for their sustained interest in this volume. They would also like to take this opportunity to express their gratitude to Professor P.J. Marshall for agreeing to go through an early draft of the manuscript, and writing a short and instructive Foreword, highlighting and contextualizing the progress made in the study of the history of Bengal from the time that he began to do his research many decades ago.

The study of history of Bengal tends to get enmeshed in and influenced by the massive transformations which happened in the nineteenth century. In the process, the fascinating history of Bengal of the early modern era gets almost entirely overshadowed and neglected, whereas new research shows there is so much to know about Bengal in relation to what was happening in the Indian subcontinent and globally in this period. The essays in this volume highlight these complexities and connections, hopefully providing pleasure to both academic readers and those interested in this region and period's history.

My introduction to the history of Bengal was through the good offices of the prestigious Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, where I was fortunate to have worked early in my career, even as I started with the assumption that Bengal was a veritable hell on earth with lots of good things in it!


However ill-deserved, the invitation to write a Foreword to this most distinguished collection is a very great honour. It is also an opportunity for someone who for more than fifty years has been a student of the historiography of Bengal as well as being a marginal contributor to it, to reflect on where we were in the 1960s, when I first began to engage with it, and where we are now as shown by this volume.

Some generalizations can be hazarded about the study in the 1960s of the early modern history of Bengal. It was largely undertaken by people, mostly male, who were born and brought up in Bengal, even if many of them had gained doctorates overseas, overwhelmingly in Britain. A BA from Presidency College, where the inspirational teaching of men like Susobhan Sarkar drew the brightest to history, followed by an MA at Calcutta University under the direction of N.K. Sinha, and an Oxford, Cambridge or SOAS doctorate was a common path. A cohort went to SOAS from what was then East Pakistan. As was generally the case at that time, disciplinary boundaries were fairly rigid. Social sciences, such as sociology or anthropology, were only just beginning to impinge overtly on history. The study of literature and language, and, therefore, of sources in Bengali, was mostly confined to departments of Bengali separate from history departments. What were deemed to be works of art were the concern of scholars like William and Mildred Archer, who were specialists in the history of art. Dr Sinha encouraged students to study the role of continental European countries in India's trade. Tapan Raychaudhuri's book on the Dutch in Coromandel came out in 1962 and in 1967, Ashin Das Gupta published Malabar in Asian Trade, the first of his studies of India's place in the trade of the Indian Ocean. But the attention of historians in the 1960s was heavily focused on the new British regime, whose vast body of records was readily accessible in the West Bengal Archives or the then India Office Library in London. Many works illuminated the ways in which the regime imposed its institutions, above all its systems of extracting revenue, and its commercial priorities on a supposedly inert Bengal, usually, it was generally assumed, to the detriment of the great mass of its population. Cultural history, as in works such as A.F. Salahuddin Ahmed's Social Ideas and Social Change in Bengal, was mostly concerned with the responses of Bengali intellectuals to the West and, hence, with the origins of the Bengal Renaissance.

The briefest glance through the contents or the notes on contributors to this volume shows that the situation in 2018 is very different and that few of these generalizations would now apply. This is, of course, no more than a statement of fact; it is not a judgement. Current preoccupations are certainly different from those of the past, but whether current historical writing is better can only be a matter of opinion. The work of the sixteen scholars who have contributed to this volume, a number of them at the beginning of their academic careers is of a very high level. Their work reflects new worldwide trends in what is now a truly globalized historical profession. This does not mean that the scholars who were shaping Bengal's early modern history in the very different conditions of the 1960s were not also pioneers with very major achievements to their credit.

What this volume most obviously suggests is that while people from Bengal still seem to predominate in writings on the early modern history of Bengal, they no longer have a virtual monopoly. European, Japanese and American scholars also contribute. Male dominance has given way to a clear female majority, ten out of sixteen: a welcome trend. Educational backgrounds and affiliations are now very varied. A number of scholars are studying for their doctorates or have had them awarded in Kolkata (notably Jadavpur) or in Delhi. Britain is no longer the major overseas source of higher degrees, although the present dominance of the United States for those who go abroad for their doctorates is not reflected in the list of contributors.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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