Calcutta port 1830s

Global historians remind us that cross-cultural exchange of goods and ideas by means of trade, conquest, migration, and investment forms an important part of human history. My recent work tries to connect India with ongoing discourses in global history. Towards this project, I study standards of living, law, guild, states, and science and technology in a comparative frame (see also 'economic history' page).

 

Global history risks underestimating the complexity of some of the big regions that made up systems of exchange. India in the World Economy explores the distinctive way in which the subcontinent traded with other regions and peoples in the very long run. In Where is Bengal, I show how a sense of geography can lead to a different notion of Bengal from the one that figures in the pictures of early modern trade and empire.

 

The turn towards global history led me to take more interest in the eighteenth century, when large worldwide forces - colonial empires, industrialization, and the first globalization - were born. One outcome of this interest is East India Company, where I outline the strengths and the weaknesses of the early modern trading system in the context of a narrative history of the Company.

 

Books

India in the World Economy from Antiquity to the Present, Cambridge University Press, New Approaches to Asian History Series, 2012.

Where is Bengal?: Situating an Indian Region in the Early Modern World Economy, Past and Present, 2012.

East India Company, Allen Lane Penguin, 2012.

How India Clothed the World: The World of South Asian Textiles 1500-1850. Edited with Giorgio Riello, Leiden: Brill, 2010.

Global history

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.. an unprecedented effort that must be the foundation for further advances in our understanding of the long history of India as a global entity.

Sumit Guha, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies

.. a fascinating book foregrounding geography and the trade patterns that India has been generating over the millennia.

Meghnad Desai, History Today

.. the first major attempt to study India’s long-term economic ties, spanning over two millennia ..

Ghulam Nadri, Economic History Review

A compelling story.

Rajiv M Lochan, The Tribune

 

 

 

For hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, the Indian subcontinent was pivotal to world trade. A coastline 5,000 miles long, easy access from West Asia, Africa and East Asia, the presence of highly skilled artisans, a rich maritime tradition, and kings who protected merchants and formed partnerships with them, secured the strategic position of trade in Indian life and of Indians in trade. Classics of Indian literature describe the heroic undertakings of the seafaring merchant. Sanskrit and Persian works on statecraft set out kingly duties towards the merchant.

Notwithstanding evidence on the antiquity and scale of trade, most accounts of the business history of India begin from the entry of Europeans in the Indian Ocean in the 1500s, as if this turning point is the only one that really mattered. I wanted to write a book that would break the pattern, and tell a story of enterprise that is millennial in scope. By taking a long view, we should be able to answer three vital questions. Is there a long-term pattern in Indian capitalism? When did the big breaks occur in that pattern? And does history shed light on economic change in the present? India in the World Economy answers these questions.