The book is the outcome of over twenty years of research at Oxford and Kolkata, and encompasses a historical, social and cultural study of the development of the urban landscape of India from the era of the Indus Civilisation to contemporary postcolonial times. It tends to focus particularly on colonial and postcolonial urban development in India and consists of eighteen chapters, including an analysis of urbanization down the ages, the multifaceted concepts of urban space in Indian cities, whether sacred, public, commercial or practical and the socioeconomic and socio-cultural dimensions of postmodernism, globalization, expanding urbanization, town planning, conservation, heritage, race, class, ethnicity, poverty, gender, public health, the natural and built environment and other related aspects of urban India and also studies the evolution of the natural and rural landscape of the country.
Aditi Chatterjiwas born in Kolkata, India and educated at Loreto House School, Loreto College, St. Hilda’s College, University of Oxford and the University of Calcutta, Kolkata. She has an M. Litt. In Geography from Oxford and a Ph.D. in Geography from the University of Calcutta and is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers), London. She was awarded the Henrietta Hutton Award of the Royal Geographical Society in 1987. She has to her credit several research papers and articles. Her publications include The Changing Landscapes of the Indian Hill Stations-Power, Culture and Tradition (Prabasi, Calcutta, 1997), based on her Oxford research; Contested Landscapes-The Story of Darjeeling (INTACH, Kolkata, 2007); and Ethnicity, Migration and the Urban Landscape of Kolkata (K.P. Bagchi, 2009 with ICSSR support).
From 2004 to 2006, she was appointed a Senior Fellow of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), New Delhi and worked on ‘Ethnicity, Migration and the Urban Landscape of Kolkata’; she was a Senior Academic Fellow of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), New Delhi from 2010 to 2012 and worked on ‘Colonial and Postcolonial Urban Development in West Bengal’ and was appointed a Senior Fellow of the ICSSR for a second time in 2013 to carry out further research on ‘Landscape and the Bengali Diaspora’. Her research papers have been presented at numerous national and international conferences and seminars, including those of the Royal Geographical Society (1997, 2007), and the Association of American Geographers (2009), as well as the National University of Singapore (1995). She went back to Oxford as a Visiting Fellow at St. Cross College in 2011, with the support of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).
She has been based at the Centre for Urban Economic Studies, Department of Economics, University of Calcutta since 1997, where she is still an Honorary Associate.
Dr. Chatterji has the gift of combining writing which is based on deep scholarship but which is also highly accessible. In this book, based on two decades of research, she brings together a large corpus of material relating to the development of the urban and rural landscapes of India from pre-colonial times, through the British imperial period, to the present day. It is the first such study of India to display such scope and insights. It will be of interest to many disciplines: geography, architecture, history, town and country planning, conservation and many types of social science. It deals with many issues, including race, class, ethnicity, migration, urbanization, segregation, poverty, conservation, globalization, sustainable development and postmodernism. It is also appearing at a time of unprecedented change in India, change which is represented in its diverse rural and urban landscapes. Its publication also coincides with, and reflects a burgeoning academic interest in landscape.
Many years ago when I was a student at Oxford, I attended the lectures of W.G. Hoskins. He had recently published the book for which he is best remembered, The Making of the English Landscape (1955) and his lectures extended this work, tracing the evolution of both urban and rural landscapes in the United Kingdom. The lectures, like the book, were base on pioneering field research and we students were enthralled by it all. For Hoskins, the landscape was a palimpsest, a kind of manuscript the engraving on which had been reworked by a succession of scholars without ever completely effacing the work of their predecessors. In the case of landscape, Hoskins demonstrated how the same underlying physical landscape had been occupied over time by a succession of migrant groups, each with its own way of life and customs. Every one of these groups had left behind a human imprint, evidence of which was to be seen not only in archaeological remains but in living elements such as field boundaries, the alignment of roads, the form of villages and the shape of towns.
Over the past fifth years or so the study of landscape has changed and progressed, but it has always acknowledged the importance of taking an historical perspective and looking at how successive occupants have left their mark on what we see around us today.
Contemporary landscape scholars approach their subject from a range of different perspectives. For some, the human landscape is an expression of a power struggle, one in which the strong typically impose their will on the weak, creating forms in the built environment that express that domination. The forts, cantonments and parade grounds of colonial India provide an obvious example. Others draw attention to the role of ethnicity, showing how attributes such as race, religion and culture exhibit themselves in the landscape. Sometimes these groups mix, particularly in the workplace, but often they lead separate lives and live in segregated areas, especially in cities such as Kolkata, home base of the author of this book. Yet other approaches recognize the significance of globalization, embracing the role of multi-national companies and also what have been referred to as landscapes of leisure.
All these contrasting ways of looking at the landscape have been extensively studied by Aditi Chatterji whose researches over more than twenty years have now come together in this present work, The Making of the Indian Landscape. India, with its long and colourful history and its variety of physical landscapes, is the perfect subject for such a book and I can think of no one more qualified to write it than Dr Chatterji. She has already published books on the landscapes of the hill stations, on Darjeeling, and on the ethnic quarters of Kolkata, as well as many articles on subjects as diverse as social welfare and the conservation of historic buildings, all of which have a bearing on the contemporary landscape.
Aditi Chatterji is an established landscape scholar in the great tradition of Hoskins and later writers and I am privileged to have been invited to write this note to her latest book. I am certain that it will be welcomed by a wide readership, both in India and in other countries where an understanding of how the landscape has evolved provides us, not only with a subject of interest in its own right, but also with a valuable key to how we should treat the landscape that we have inherited and how we might leave it for the benefit of generations to come.
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