India in British Political Thought, c. 1600–1800 (seminar)

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For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a fall 2009 semester seminar led by Robert Travers.

Recent scholarship has shown the importance of overseas settlement, colonies, and empire in the history of early modern British political thought. While most of this work has focused on the Atlantic world, this seminar was one of the Center for the History of British Political Thought programs that explored the intellectual history of early modern British encounters with South Asia. The course was structured by two inter-related themes: first, how the English East India Company figured as both a political and commercial project from its inception to the growth of a “British Indian Empire” in the late eighteenth century; and second, how Britons thought about the varied polities of early modern South Asia, in particular the vast empire of the Mughals. How did Britons who traveled, traded, fought, and governed in India adapt homegrown concepts to new contexts? How was British thought affected by confrontations and exchanges with the intellectual life of India? How did British thought about India fit into a broader pattern of European encounters with the region? And in what ways did encounters with India feed back into the metropolitan political thought of Britain? This seminar invited applications from scholars with original research to contribute to the conversation. It also welcomed applications from participants working in contiguous fields and from a variety of disciplines -- for comparative studies in the histories of colonialism and imperial expansion or on early modern political thought more broadly. Applicants with those interests, however, took care to articulate the questions and assumptions with which they approach the seminar. They profited from background readings in the Center’s work, including most recently British Political Thought in History, Literature and Theory, 1500—1800, edited by David Armitage (Cambridge, 2006).

Director: Robert Travers is Associate Professor of History at Cornell University. Author of Ideology and Empire in Eighteenth Century India: The British in Bengal (2007), he has also published articles in journals such as Modern Asian Studies, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History and Past and Present.