The Great Game
The Great Game, a term usually attributed to Arthur Conolly, was used to describe the rivalry and
strategic conflict between the British Empire and the Tsarist Russian Empire for supremacy in Central Asia. The term was later popularized by British novelist Rudyard Kipling in his work, Kim.
In Russia the same rivalry and strategic conflict was known as the Tournament of Shadows. The classic Great Game period is generally regarded as running from approximately 1813 to the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907.
The Great Game in the 19th century
At the start of the 19th century there were some 2000
miles separating British India and the outlying regions
As Imperial Russian expansion threatened to collide with the increasing British dominance of the occupied lands of the Indian sub-continent, the two great empires played
out a subtle game of exploration, espionage and imperialistic diplomacy throughout Central Asia. The conflict always threatened, but never quite managed to break out into direct warfare between the two sides. The centre of activity was in Afghanistan.
From the British perspective, the Russian expansion threatened to destroy the so-called “jewel in the crown” of India. As the Tsar’s troops began to subdue one Khanate after another the British feared that Afghanistan would become a staging post for a Russian invasion of India. It was with these thoughts in mind, that in 1838 the British launched the First Anglo-Afghan War and attempted to impose a puppet regime under Shuja Shah.
The regime was short lived, and unsustainable without British military support. By 1842 mobs were attacking the British on the streets of Kabul and the British garrison agreed to a retreat from Kabul with guaranteed safe passage. Unfortunately for the British, the guarantee proved to be worthless. The retreating British column consisted of approximately 4,500 military
personnel and 12,000 camp followers including many women and children. During a series of ruthless attacks all but a few dozen were killed on the march back to India.
The British curbed their ambitions in Afghanistan following the humiliating retreat from Kabul. After the Indian rebellion of 1857, successive British governments saw Afghanistan as a buffer state. The Russians however, continued to advance steadily southward toward Afghanistan and by 1865 Tashkent had been formally annexed. Samarkand became part of the Russian Empire three years later and the independence of Bukhara was virtually stripped away in a peace treaty the same year. Russian control now extended as far as the northern bank of the Amu Darya river.
Britain demanded that the ruler of Afghanistan (Sher Ali) accept a British diplomatic mission. The mission was turned back and in retaliation a force of 40,000 men was sent across the border, launching the Second Anglo-Afghan War. The second war wasalmost as disastrous as the first for the British, and by 1881they again pulled out of Kabul. They left Abdur Rahman Khan on the throne, and he agreed to let the British maintain Afghanistan’s foreignpolicy while he consolidated his position on the throne. He managed to suppress internal rebellions with ruthless efficiency and brought much of the country under central control.
The Russians claimed all of the former ruler’s territory and fought with Afghan troops over the oasis of Panjdeh. On the brink of war between the two great powers, the British decided to accept the Russian possession as a fait accompli. Without any Afghan say in the matter, the Joint Anglo-Russian Boundary Commission agreed the Russians would relinquish the farthest territory captured in their advance, but retain Panjdeh. The agreement delineated a permanent northern Afghan frontier at the Amu Darya, with the loss of a large amount of territory, especially around Panjdeh.
In 1907 the Anglo-Russian Convention brought a close to the classic period of the Great Game. The Russians accepted that the politics of Afghanistan were solely under British control as long as the British guaranteed not to change the regime. Russia agreed to conduct all political relations with Afghanistan through the British. The British agreed that they would maintain the current borders and actively discourage any attempt by Afghanistan to encroach on Russian territory.
The Great Game in the 20th century
was precipitated by the assassination of the then ruler Habibullah
independence and attacked British India’s northern frontier. Although little was gained
militarily, the stalemate was resolved with the Rawalpindi
equipment. British influence in Afghanistan waned, but relations between Afghanistan and
the Russians remained equivocal, with many Afghanis desiring to regain control of Merv and
Panjdeh. The Soviets, for their part, desired to extract more from the friendship treaty than Amanullah was willing to give.
The United Kingdom imposed minor sanctions and diplomatic slights as a response to the
treaty, fearing that Amanullah was slipping out of their
sphere of influence, and realising that the policy of the Afghanistan government, was to
have control of all of the Pashtun speaking groups on both sides of the Durand Line. In 1923 Amanullah
responded by taking the title padshah — “king”, and by offering refuge for Muslims who fled the Soviet Union, and Indian
nationalists in exile from the Raj.
Amanullah’s programme of reform was, however, insufficient
to strengthen the army quickly enough — in 1928 he abdicated under pressure, and his
brother abdicated three days later. The individual to emerge from the crisis was King Muhammad Nadir, who reigned from 1929 to 1933. Both the
Soviets and the British played the circumstances to their advantage: the Soviets getting
aid in dealing with Uzbek rebellion in 1930 and 1931, while
the British aided Afghanistan in creating a 40,000 man professional army.
With the advent of World War II came the temporary alignment of British and Soviet
interests: in 1940 both governments pressured Afghanistan for the removal of a large
German non-diplomatic contingent, which was felt by both governments to be engaged in
espionage. Initially this was resisted. With this period of cooperation between the USSR
and the UK, the Great Game between the two powers came to an
The Great Game renewed
With the end of the Second World
the United States displaced Britain as the global power, asserting its influence in the
Middle East in pursuit of oil, containment of the Soviet Union, and access to other
resources. This period is sometimes referred to as “The New Great Game” by commentators, and there are references in the military, security and diplomatic communities to “The Great Game” as an analogy or framework for events involving India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and more recently, the post-Soviet republics of Central Asia.
In 1997, Zbigniew Brzezinski published “The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives” which advocated a 21st century version of the Great Game. Popular media have referred to the current difficulties international forces have had in fighting Taliban forces in Afghanistan as a continuance of the Great Game.
The Great Game in popular culture
- Flashman in the Great Game by George MacDonald Fraser
- The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk (1992) ISBN-13:978-1-56836-022-5
- The Great Game is referenced in the song “Pink India” from musician Stephen Malkmus‘ self-titled album. The song discusses the political legacy of the Game leading up the Soviet war in Afghanistan. The song refers by name to Britishcivil servant
who first proposed the border, known as the Durand line, dividing
English holdings in India and Pakistan from Russian holdings in Afghanistan.
- Peter Hopkirk. The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia, Kodansha International, 1992, ISBN 4-7700-1703-0,565p. The timeline of the Great Game is available online.
- Karl Meyer. Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Asia, Shareen Brysac, 2001, ISBN 0-349-11366-1
- Robert Johnson, Spying for Empire: The Great Game in Central and South Asia, 1757-1947, (London: Greenhill, 2006) ISBN 1-85367-670-5 
The British Army was involved in some comparatively obscure theatres of the war such as
the symbolic contribution of the South Wales
the German port of Tsingtao in China in 1914. A few British
Army battalions also participated in the campaign in East
elusive German and colonial Askari forces however most British
The British Army was heavily engaged in the Mediterranean,
throughout the war, mainly against the Ottoman Empire.
August another landing was made at Suvla Bay but
the deadlock remained and by January 1916, the British, Anzac
and French forces had withdrawn. A new front was opened in Salonika
but this too remained static, tying up troops who suffered severely from malaria and other illnesses; it gained a reputation as
“Germany’s biggest internment camp.”
In the Sinai and
Palestine, the British Army, along with
Australian and New Zealand light cavalry, made steady progress against Ottoman opposition until the First Battle of Gaza in March 1917. The appointment of General Edmund Allenby reinvigorated the campaign, leading to the capture of Jerusalem in December 1917 and the decisive Meggido Offensive in September 1918 which precipitated an armistice with the
Ottoman Empire. In Mesopotamia, the Army was highly dependent upon Indian Army forces and initially experienced success until defeat at Kut-al-Amara in April 1916 halted progress. The British eventually regained momentum
upon General Frederick
captured in 1917.
Inter-War Period (1919-1939)
In the immediate aftermath of the First World War, Britain faced serious economic woes
and heavy defence cuts were consequently imposed by the British Government in the early
involved in another major war for 10-years, and was abandoned in 1932.
The Royal Tank Corps was the only corps formed in WWI that survived the cuts; the cavalry
had sixteen regiments amalgamated into eight and there was a substantial reduction in
infantry battalions and the size of the TF (now retitled as the Territorial Army). The
Army was effectively being reduced to the role of imperial policeman, concentrated on
Irish regiments (5 infantry and 1 cavalry) that were based and recruited from the south of
Ireland, largely in part due to the creation of the Irish
Free State. In spite of this, Irishmen from the south were still able to join the
British Army, and many did indeed do so.
One of the first post-war campaigns that the Army took part in was the Allied
intervention in Russia in 1919 to assist the “White Army“
occupation forces in the defeated powers of WWI. In Germany, a British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) was
established. The BAOR would remain in existence until 1929 when
The Army, throughout the inter-war period, also had to deal with quelling paramilitary
organisations seeking the removal of the British.
neither mad nor a mullah) resumed his campaign against the British, a campaign he had
first begun in 1900. The operations against
him were prominent due to the newly-formed RAF being instrumental in his defeat.
War. Both sides committed atrocities, some units becoming infamous, such as the
paramilitary Black and Tans that were recruited from
veterans of WWI.
hostile to the British. The Army had been operating in the volatile North-West area since
the 1800s. The last major uprising that the Army had to deal with before the start
By the 1930s, another war with Germany was about to occur,
Party who wee becoming increasingly aggressive and expansionist. The Army was,
however, not prepared for war, lagging behind the technologically advanced and much larger
though was going at an extremely slow pace due to it having little priority brought on by
the severe economical restrictions imposed on the Armed Forces. With each Service vying
for a share of the defence budget, the Army came last behind the Royal Navy and Royal Air
Force in allocation of funds. In contrast to
Germany’s embrace of tank warfare and individuals such as Heinz Guderian, many individuals in the higher echelons in Britain had little enthusiasm for armour and the ideas of Basil Liddell Hart and J.F.C. Fuller were largely ignored; ironically, many of their ideas were employed by the Germans for their Blitzkrieg. By the mid-1930s, mechanisation in the British Army was gaining momentum and on 4 April 1939, with the mechanisation process nearing completion, the Royal Armoured Corps was formed to administer the cavalry regiments and Royal Tank Regiment (with the exception of the Household Cavalry). The mechanisation process was finally completed in 1941 with the Royal Scots Greys.
Maxwell’s demon is a character in an 1867
thought experiment by the Scottish
physicist James Clerk
Maxwell, meant to raise questions about the possibility of violating the second law of thermodynamics.
Maxwell’s thought experiment
The Second Law of Thermodynamics
forbids (among other things) two bodies of equal temperature,
brought in contact with each other and isolated from the rest of the Universe, from evolving to a state in
which one of the two has a significantly higher temperature than the other. The second law
is also expressed as the assertion that in an isolated
system, entropy never decreases.
Maxwell described his thought experiment in this way:
… if we conceive of a being whose faculties are so sharpened that he can follow every
molecule in its course, such a being, whose attributes are as essentially finite as our
own, would be able to do what is impossible to us. For we have seen that molecules in a
vessel full of air at uniform temperature are moving with velocities by no means uniform,
though the mean velocity of any great number of them, arbitrarily selected, is almost
exactly uniform. Now let us suppose that such a vessel is divided into two portions, A and
B, by a division in which there is a small hole, and that a being, who can see the
individual molecules, opens and closes this hole, so as to allow only the swifter
molecules to pass from A to B, and only the slower molecules to pass from B to A. He will
thus, without expenditure of work, raise the temperature of B and lower that of A, in
contradiction to the second law of thermodynamics.
In other words, Maxwell imagines two containers, A and B, filled with the
same gas at equal temperatures, placed next to each other. A
little "demon" guards a trapdoor between the two containers, observing the molecules on both sides. When a faster-than-average molecule
from A flies towards the trapdoor, the demon opens it, and the molecule will fly
from A to B. Thus, the average speed of the
molecules in B will have increased, while the molecules in A will have
slowed down on average. However, since average molecular speed corresponds to temperature,
the temperature in A will have decreased and in B will have increased; this
is contrary to the second law of thermodynamics.
Criticism and development
Maxwell’s thought experiment has troubled physicists ever since he first published it.
- Is Maxwell correct?
- Could such a demon, as he describes it, actually violate the second law?
Several physicists have presented calculations that show that the second law of thermodynamics will not
actually be violated, if a more complete analysis is made of the whole system including
the demon. The essence of the physical arguments is to show by calculation that any demon
must "generate" more entropy segregating the molecules than it could ever
eliminate by the method described.
One of the most famous responses to this question was suggested in 1929 by Leó Szilárd and later by Léon
Brillouin. Szilárd pointed out that a real-life
Maxwell’s demon would need to have some means of measuring molecular speed, and that the
act of acquiring information would require an expenditure of energy.
The second law states that the total
entropy of an isolated system must increase. Since the demon and the gas are interacting,
we must consider the total entropy of the gas and the demon combined. The expenditure of
energy by the demon will cause an increase in the entropy of the demon, which will be
larger than the lowering of the entropy of the gas. For example, if the demon is checking
molecular positions using a flashlight, the flashlight battery is a low-entropy device, a
chemical reaction waiting to happen. As its energy is used up emitting photons (whose entropy must now be counted
as well!), the battery’s chemical reaction will proceed and its entropy will increase,
more than offsetting the decrease in the entropy of the gas.
Put simply, no matter how it is done, both the act of the demon watching molecules and
the act of opening and closing the trapdoor is by definition work and requires
the expenditure of energy. These explanations, however, are
inadequate as the concept of the demon is not stated and may work as described below in Alternate and Improved Demons.
Szilárd’s insight was expanded upon in 1982 by Charles H. Bennett. In 1960, Rolf
Landauer realized that certain measurements need
not increase thermodynamic entropy as long as they were thermodynamically
reversible. Due to the connection between
thermodynamic entropy and information entropy, this also meant that the recorded
measurement must not be erased. In other words, to determine what
side of the gate a molecule must be on, the demon must store information about the state
of the molecule. Bennett showed that, however well prepared, eventually the demon will run
out of information storage space and must begin to erase the information it has previously
gathered. Erasing information is a thermodynamically irreversible process that increases
the entropy of a system.
Alternate and improved demons
Maxwell’s demon could work this way: imagine a dividing wall in which each element
would function as a valve set to allow only those particles of higher
velocity/energy/enthalpy through into the other chamber. This would result in accumulation
against the entropic gradient, apparently contrary to the second law. Not only would the
"work" involved in separating the molecules take a small amount of energy to
begin with, after analyzing the location of the molecule, the theoretical
"demon" would have to forget the location of the molecule, which would
expend more energy than would be created by the energy-generating action of the generator.
Simply put, to forget is work by definition, and would prevent the engine from producing
any amount of energy.
A slower process which would work just as well as Maxwell’s would be a wall in which
there was a single valve: by the law of random motion every particle would at some time or
another impact this valve and be "assessed" by the valve mechanism and thus
either pass through or not into the second chamber. Conceptually this could be done as
simply as by having a spring-loaded door: particles with greater momentum would open the
door/gate/valve and others would not. In practice, at normal temperatures the dissipation
of energy caused by transfer of energy from the bouncing particles to the side walls, to
each other, and of course to the valve in their passage through the wall, would soon cause
the whole system to lose energy and run down. Recent research suggests that this might not
be the case at extremely low temperatures.
Real-life versions of Maxwellian demons occur, but all such "real demons"
have their entropy-lowering effects duly balanced by increase of entropy elsewhere.
Single-atom traps used by particle physicists allow an experimenter to control the
state of individual quanta in a way similar to Maxwell’s demon.
Molecular-sized mechanisms are no longer found only in biology; they are also the
subject of the emerging field of nanotechnology.
A large-scale, commercially-available pneumatic device exists which separates hot and
cold air, called a Ranque-Hilsch vortex tube. It sorts
molecules by exploiting the conservation of angular momentum: hotter molecules are spun to
the outside of the tube while cooler molecules spin in a tighter whirl within the tube.
Gas from the two different temperature whirls may be vented on opposite ends of the tube.
Although this creates a temperature difference, the energy to do so is supplied by the
pressure driving the gas through the tube.
If hypothetical mirror matter exists, demons can be envisaged which can act
like perpetuum mobiles of the second kind: extract heat energy from only one reservoir,
use it to do work and be isolated from the rest of ordinary world.
Yet the Second Law is not violated because the demons pay their entropy cost in the
hidden (mirror) sector of the world by emitting mirror photons.
Adams and the demon as historical metaphor
Historian Henry Adams in his manuscript The Rule of
Phase Applied to History attempted to use Maxwell’s demon as an historical metaphor though he seems to have misunderstood and misapplied
the principle. Adams interpreted history
as a process moving towards equilibrium, but he saw militaristic nations (he felt Germany
pre-eminent in this class) as tending to reverse this process, a Maxwell’s Demon of history. Adams made many
attempts to respond to the criticism of his formulation from his scientific colleagues,
but the work remained incomplete at Adams’ death in 1918. It was
only published posthumously. 
Maxwell’s demon in popular culture
- Maxwell’s demon appears in Thomas Pynchon‘s novel, The Crying of Lot 49.
- Maxwell’s demon appears in George Gamow‘s Mr. Tompkins.
- Maxwell’s demon is a significant contributing character in Diane
Duane‘s Young Wizards Series, primarily in the first
book, So You Want to Be a Wizard.
- Maxwell’s demon makes appearances in the popular manga Oh My Goddess! by Kosuke
Fujishima as a spirit capable of generating what amounts to a miniature ramjet.
- Maxwell’s demon, nicknamed "Max" makes appearances in the fantasy series A Wizard in Rhyme by Christopher Stasheff. In addition to being the
personification of entropy, the demon was also dubbed the Spirit of Perversity and held
enormous power over entropy-driven effects.
- Maxwell’s demon is mentioned in the Novel Homo Faber
by Swiss author Max Frisch,
as well as in one of the short stories of The Cyberiad
- Some Windows releases came with a very simple game called "Maxwell’s Maniac", in which you play the part of
Maxwell’s Demon by moving a sliding door to try to coax red molecules to one side of a
chamber and blue molecules to the other.
- Maxwell’s Demon becomes an argument for The User
Illusion by Tor Norretranders.
- Maxwell Demon was the name of Brian Eno‘s first band,
which was the inspiration for the name of a fictional character in the movie Velvet Goldmine.
- Maxwell’s Demon is the name of a 1968 film by the American experimental filmmaker Hollis Frampton.
- Maxwell’s Demon is an enemy of Captain Baseball bat-boy in the animated series
featured in the game Max Payne.
- In strip 346 of the webcomic
Mac Hall, a hallucinated Maxwell’s Demon is found in the air
- Maxwell’s demon appears, and fills his typical role, in the climax of the book Master of the Five
Magics by Lyndon Hardy.
- In the manga Gundam
Wing: Episode Zero, one of the Gundam engineers associates Duo
Maxwell‘s last name with Maxwell’s demon.
Lem: "The Sixth Sally, or How Trurl and Klaupacius Created
a Demon of the Second Kind to Defeat the Pirate Pugg". Isaac Asimov and Larry Niven have also each written a short story in homage to
Maxwell. Additionally, Larry Niven‘s Warlock in The Magic Goes Away uses such a demon to cool his
- Maxwell (1871), reprinted in Leff & Rex (1990) at p.4 http://www.ulearntoday.com/magazine/physics_article1.jsp?FILE=maxwelldemon
- Cater (1947), pp640-647, see also the paper by Daub (1970) reprinted in Leff
& Rex (1990), pp37-51.
- Adams (1919), p.267
External links and bibliography
Sciencenews.org article about
- Adams, H. (1919). The Degradation of the Democractic Dogma. New York: Kessinger. ISBN 1-4179-1598-6.
- Bennet, C.H. (1987) "Demons, Engines and the Second Law", Scientific American, November, pp108-116
- Cater, H.D (ed.) (1947). Henry Adams and his Friends. Boston.
- Daub, E.E. (1967). "Atomism and Thermodynamics". Isis 58:
- Feynmann, R.P. et al. (1996). Feynman Lectures on Computation.
- Jordy, W.H. (1952). Henry Adams: Scientific Historian. New Haven. ISBN 0-685-26683-4.
- Leff, H.S. & Rex, A.F. (eds) (1990). Maxwell’s Demon: Entropy, Information,
Computing. Bristol: Adam-Hilger. ISBN 0-7503-0057-4.,
may be out of print but contains several papers not in 2003 edition.
- - (2003). Maxwell’s Demon 2: Entropy, Classical and Quantum Information, Computing.
Institute of Physics. ISBN
0-7503-0759-5., Contents – an
anthology and comprehensive bibliography of academic papers pertaining to Maxwell’s demon and related topics. Chapter 1 provides a
- Maxwell, J.C. (1871). Theory of Heat., reprinted (2001) New York: Dover, ISBN 0-486-41735-2
historical overview of the demon’s origin and solutions to the paradox.
Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxwell%27s_demon"
The Law of Civilization and Decay (1895), America’s Economic Supremacy
(1900), and The New Empire (1902).
Brooks Adams (1848 – 1927), was an American historian and a critic of
capitalism. He believed that commercial civilizations rise and fall in predictable cycles. First, masses of people
draw together in large population centers and engage in commercial activities. As their
desire for wealth grows, they discard spiritual and creative values. Their greed leads to
distrust and dishonesty, and eventually the society crumbles. In The Law of Civilisation and Decay (1895), Adams
noted that as new population centers emerged in the west, centers of world trade shifted
from Constantinople to Venice
to Amsterdam to London.
He predicted in America’s Economic Supremacy
(1900) that New York would become the world trade center.
Adams was born in Quincy, Massachusetts. He
was a grandson of John Quincy Adams, a son of U.S.
diplomat Charles Francis Adams, and brother to Henry Adams, philosopher,
historian, and novelist, whose theories of history were influenced by his work.
World Book encyclopedia 1988
Henry Brooks Adams (February 16, 1838 – March 27, 1918) was an American historian, journalist and novelist. The son of
Charles Francis Adams, Sr. and Abigail
Brooks Adams, he was a member of the Adams
Adams was born in Boston into one of the country’s most
prominent families (both his grandfather and his great-grandfather had been Presidents of the United States).
After his graduation from Harvard in 1858,
he embarked on a Grand Tour of Europe,
during which he also attended lectures in civil
law at the University of Berlin.
Civil War years
Adams returned home in the midst of the heated presidential election of 1860, and which
was also his father Charles Francis Adams,
Sr.’s bid for reelection to the US House of Representatives.
He tried his hand again at law, taking employment with Judge Horace
Gray‘s Boston firm, but this was short-lived. With his father’s victory in November,
Charles Francis asked Henry to be his private secretary, a familial role between father
and son going back to John and John Quincy. It was a sign that Charles Francis had chosen
Henry as the political scion of the Adams family. But Henry himself shouldered the
responsibility reluctantly and with much self-doubt. “[I] had little to do,” he
reflected later, “and knew not how to do it rightly.”
During this time, Henry secured outside (but anonymous) employment as the Washington
Correspondent for Charles Hale‘s
On March 19, 1861, Abraham Lincoln appointed Charles Francis Adams, Sr. United States Minister
(ambassador) to the United Kingdom, and Henry Adams
continued to accompany him as his private secretary. Henry again sought outlet for his
literary pursuits, taking employment (again anonymously) as the London correspondent for
the New York Times. The two Adamses were kept
very busy, monitoring Confederate diplomatic intrigues and the construction of Confederate
commerce raiders by British shipyards (see Alabama Claims). Henry’s main concerns, as London
correspondent, lay in attempting to persuade the American audience to maintain patience
with the British. As his social life expanded in Britain, Adams befriended many noted men
including Charles Lyell, Francis T. Palgrave, Richard Monckton Milnes, James Milnes Gaskell, and Charles Milnes Gaskell.
It was also in Britain that Henry read and was taken with the works of John Stuart Mill. For Adams, Mill showed (in Consideration
on Representative Government) the necessity of an enlightened, moral, and intelligent
elite to provide leadership to a government elected by the masses and subject to
demagoguery, ignorance, and corruption. Henry wrote to his brother Charles that Mill
demonstrated to him that “democracy is still capable of rewarding a conscientious
servant.” His years in London showed him that as a
correspondant and journalist he could best provide America with that knowledgeable and
Journalist and reformer
In 1868, Henry Adams returned to the United States and settled
down in Washington, D.C., where he started working as
a journalist. Adams saw himself as a traditionalist longing
for the democratic ideal of the 17th and 18th centuries. Accordingly, he was keen on exposing political corruption in his journalistic pieces.
In 1870 Adams was appointed Professor
of Medieval History at Harvard, a position he held until his early retirement in 1877 at 39. That year he returned to Washington, where he continued
working as a historian. In the 1880s Adams also wrote two
novels. Democracy was published
anonymously in 1880 and immediately became popular.
(Only after Adams’s death did his publisher reveal Adams’s authorship.) His other novel,
published under the nom de plume of Frances Snow Compton, was Esther (1884).
Adams was a member of an exclusive club, a group of friends called the “Five of
Hearts” which consisted of Henry, his wife Clover, mountaineer Clarence King, John Hay
(assistant to Lincoln and later Secretary of State), and Hay’s wife Clara.
On December 6, 1885, Marian Adams (Clover),
his wife, committed suicide. Following her death Adams took up
a restless life as a globetrotter, traveling extensively, spending summers in Paris and winters in Washington, where he erected an elaborate memorial
at her grave site. In 1907 he published his autobiography, The
Education of Henry Adams, in a small private edition for selected friends. The
work concerned the birth of forces Adams saw as replacing Christianity. For Adams, the Virgin Mary had shaped the old world, as the dynamo represented the new. The book has been cited recently by
the Intercollegiate Studies Institute
as the most important non-fiction work of the 20th century. It was only following Adams’s
death that it was made available to the general public, in an edition issued by the Massachusetts Historical Society. It was
awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1919.
As a historian, Adams is considered to have been
the first (in 1874–1876) to conduct historical seminar
work in the United States. His magnum opus is The
History of the United States of America (1801 to 1817) (9 vols., 1889–1891).
It is particularly notable for its account of the diplomatic relations of the United
States during this period, and for its essential impartiality. Garry
Wills‘s book Henry Adams and the Making of
America (2005) examines Adams’s History, and proclaims it a neglected
Adams also published Life of Albert
Gallatin (1879), John Randolph
(1882), and Historical Essays (1891), besides editing The Writings of Albert
Gallatin (3 volumes, 1879) and, in collaboration with Henry Cabot Lodge, Ernest Young and J. L. Laughlin, Essays in Anglo-Saxon Law (1876).
Henry Adams’s brothers are also notable:
- His elder brother, John Quincy Adams (1833–1894), a graduate of Harvard
(1853), practiced law, and was a Democratic member for several terms of the Massachusetts
general court. In 1872 he was nominated for vice-president by the Democratic faction that
refused to support Horace Greeley.
- Another brother, Charles Francis Adams, Jr.
(1835– 1915), graduated at Harvard
in 1856, and served on the Union side in the Civil War, receiving in 1865 the brevet of brigadier-general in the regular army. He was
president of the Union Pacific Railroad from
1884 to 1890, having previously become widely known as an authority on the management of
railways. Among his writings are Railroads, Their
Origin and Problems (1878).
- Another brother, Brooks Adams (1848–1927), practiced law. His
writings include The Law of Civilization and Decay (1895), America’s Economic
Supremacy (1900), and The New Empire (1902).
- Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961),
chapters 7–15, and Contosta, ch. 2.
- The Education of Henry Adams, p. 101.
- Henry Adams quoted in David R. Contosta, p. 33.
- Adams, Henry B. Letters. Edited by W. C. Ford. 2 vols. 1930–38 Adams, James Truslow.
- Adams, Marian Hooper. The Letters of Mrs. Henry Adams, 1865–1883. Edited by
W. Thoron. (1936)
- Brookhiser, Richard. America’s First Dynasty: The Adamses, 1735–1918.
- Cater, H. D., ed. Henry Adams and His Friends: A Collection of His Unpublished
- Chalfant, E. Better in Darkness. (1994)
- Contosta, David R. Henry Adams and the American Experiment. Boston: Little, Brown
& Co., 1980.
Henry Adams (1933, reprint 1970)
- Dusinberre, W. Henry Adams: The Myth of Failure. (1980)
- Samuels, E. The Young Henry Adams. (1948)
- Samuels, E. Henry Adams: The Middle Years. (1958)
- Samuels, E. Henry Adams: The Major Phase. (1964)
- Wills, Garry. Henry Adams and the Making of America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin
The Education of Henry Adams
at the University of Virginia American Studies Hypertext project. Adams’s
Education is Advanced by President Grant Young Henry Adams, already an eye-witness to
the Italian struggle for independence and Secretary to the United States’ Ambassador to
Britain (his father), votes for Ulysses S. Grant in the 1868 presidential election and
looks on with interest to see how matters will unfold.
Retrieved from “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Adams“
Famine in India
There were 14 famines in India
between 11th and 17th century (Bhatia, 1985). B.M. Bhatia believes that the earlier
famines were localised and it was only after 1860, during the British
rule, that famine came to signify general shortage of foodgrains in the country. There
were approximately 25 major famines spread through states such as Tamil Nadu in South India, Bihar in
the north, and Bengal in the east in the latter half of the
19th century, killing between 30-40 million Indians in the period as India’s native
industries suffered almost total collapse, with its skilled artisans driven out of work
while British imports flooded into the Indian markets.
The famines were a product both of uneven rainfall and British economic and
administrative policies, which since 1857 had led to the seizure and conversion of local
farmland to foreign-owned plantations, restrictions on internal trade, heavy taxation of
Indian citizens to support unsuccessful British expeditions in Afghanistan (see Second
Anglo-Afghan War), inflationary measures that
increased the price of food, and substantial exports of staple crops from India to
Britain. (Dutt, 1900 and 1902; Srivastava, 1968; Sen, 1982; Bhatia, 1985.) Some British
citizens such as William Digby agitated for policy reforms and famine relief, but Lord Lytton,
the governing British viceroy in India, opposed such changes in the belief that they would
stimulate shirking by Indian workers. The first Bengal famine of 1770 is estimated to have taken nearly one-third of the population.
The famines continued until independence in 1948, with the Bengal famine of 1943-44—among the
most devastating—killing 3-4 million Indians during World War II.
The Famine Commission of 1880 observed that each province in British India, including Burma, had a surplus of foodgrains, and the annual surplus was 5.16
million tons (Bhatia, 1970). At that time, annual export of rice and other grains from
India was approximately one million tons.
The increase in food to the population is also reflected in the fact that in the 50
years of British rule (1891 to 1941) the population grew by 35% (from 287 million to 389
million) whereas in the 50 years of democratic rule from 1951 to 2001 the population grew
by 183% (from 363 million to 1,023 million) . The fact that there have been no famines
even with a population that has almost tripled makes it an even more impressive
achievement for the democratic government.
- 1780-1790s: some millions Indians died of famine in Bengal, Benares, Jammu, Bombay and
- 1800-1825: 1 million Indians died of famine
- 1850-1875: 5 millions Indians died of famine in Bengal, Orissa, Rajastan and Bihar
- 1875-1902: 26 million Indians died of famine (1876-1878: 10 millions)
- 1905-1906: famine raged in areas with the population of 3,3 million.
- 1906-1907: famine captured areas with the population of 13 million
- 1907-1908: famine captured areas populated by 49,6 million Indians.
- In 1943, India experienced the second Bengal famine of 1943. Over 3 million people died.
- In 1966, there was a ‘near miss’ in Bihar.
The USA allocated 900,000 tons of grain to fight the famine.
there was a famine in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. 1770: Indian territory ruled by
the British East India Company experienced the first Bengal
famine of 1770. An estimated 10 million people died.
- Bhatia, B.M. (1985) Famines in India: A study in Some Aspects of the Economic History of
India with Special Reference to Food Problem, Delhi: Konark Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
- Bhattaharyya B. 1973. A History of Bangla Desh. Dacca.
- Dutt, Romesh C. Open Letters to Lord Curzon on Famines and Land Assessments in India,
first published 1900, 2005 edition by Adamant Media Corporation, Elibron Classics Series, ISBN 1-4021-5115-2.
- Dutt, Romesh C. The Economic History of India under early British Rule, first
published 1902, 2001 edition by Routledge, ISBN 0-415-24493-5
Sen, Amartya, Poverty
- Srivastava, H.C., The History of Indian Famines from 1858-1918, Sri Ram Mehra and Co.,
and Famines : An Essay on Entitlements and Deprivation, Oxford, Clarendon
It was the transfer of wealth through unprecedented levels of taxation on Indians of
virtually all classes that funded the great "Industrial Revolution"
As India became poor and hungry, Britain became richer. Colossal fortunes were made.
Robert Clive arrived in India penniless – activities of Company investigated by House of
Commons. The Hindi word loot was introduced into English language because of the plunder
of India. Colossal fortunes helped fund Britain’s Industrial Revolution….
In 1770s one writer said of Bengal : one continued scene or oppression. Systematic
plunder led to a famine in which 10 million people perished. Bengal was left naked,
stripped of its surplus wealth and grain. Famine struck in 1770 and took the lives of an
estimated one third of Bengal’s peasantry. A Commons Select Committee report in 1783 said
that natives of all ranks and orders had been reduced to a State of Depression and Misery.
In 1787 a former army officer wrote: In former times the Bengal countries were the granary
of nations, and the repository of commerce, wealth and manufacture in the East…But such
has been the restless energy of misgovernment, that within 20 years many parts of those
countries have been reduced to desert. The fields are no longer cultivated, extensive
tracks are already overgrown with thickets, the husbandman is plundered, the manufacturer
(handicraftsman) oppressed, famine has been repeatedly endured and depopulation ensured.
Economic historian Romesh Dutt said half of India’s annual net revenues of £44m flowed
out of India. The number of famines soared from seven in the first half of 19th Century to
24 in second half. According to official figures, 28,825,000 Indians starved to death
between 1854 and 1901. The terrible famine of 1899-1900 which affected 474,000 square
miles with a population almost 60 million was attributed to a process of bleeding the
peasant, who were forced into the clutches of the money-lenders whom British regarded as
their mainstay for the payment of revenue. The Bengal famine of 1943, which claimed
1.5million victims were accentuated by the authority’s carelessness and utter lack of
May 9 2004, 02:12 AM
I am doing a school paper, and I would like some feed back from users on this board.
When Britain was in India (around 1850-1930) did
they help the economy of India or ruin it?
Can you please place links of your source/idea.
My thought: Ruin the economy – 1. Cottage Industry 2. Monopoly
May 9 2004, 05:19 AM
Crusades, Christianisation, and Colonisation
Before British rule, there was no private property in land. The self-governing village
community handed over each year to the ruler or his nominee a share of the years produce.
East India Company put a stop to this and introduced a new revenue system superseding the
right of the village community over land and creating two new forms of property on land -
landlordism and individual peasant proprietorship. It was assumed that the State was the
supreme landlord. Fixed tax payments were introduced based on land whereby payment had to
be made to the government whether or not crop had been successful. As one British put it
we have introduced new methods of assessing and cultivating land revenue which have
converted a once flourishing population into a huge horde of paupers. Indeed the first
effect was the reduction in agricultural incomes by 50% thereby undermining the agrarian
economy and self-governing village.
In 1769 the Company prohibited Indians from trading in grain, salt, betel nuts and tobacco
and discouraged handicraft. Company also prohibited the home work of the silk weavers and
compelled them to work in its factories. Weavers who disobeyed were imprisoned, fined or
flogged. Company’s servants lined their own pockets by private trading and bribery and
extortion. Goods were seized at a fraction of their price and resold to their owners at
five times their price.
In 1770s one writer said of Bengal : one continued
scene or oppression. Systematic plunder led to a famine in which 10 million people
perished. Bengal was left naked, stripped of its surplus wealth and grain. Famine struck
in 1770 and took the lives of an estimated one third of Bengal’s peasantry. A Commons
Select Committee report in 1783 said that natives of all ranks and orders had been reduced
to a State of Depression and Misery.
In 1787 a former army officer wrote: In former times the Bengal countries were the granary
of nations, and the repository of commerce, wealth and manufacture in the East…But such
has been the restless energy of misgovernment, that within 20 years many parts of those
countries have been reduced to desert. The fields are no longer cultivated, extensive
tracks are already overgrown with thickets, the husbandman is plundered, the manufacturer
(handicraftsman) oppressed, famine has been repeatedly endured and depopulation ensured.
As India became poor and hungry, Britain became
richer. Colossal fortunes were made. Robert Clive arrived in India penniless – activities
of Company investigated by House of Commons. The Hindi word loot was introduced into
English language because of the plunder of India. Colossal fortunes helped fund Britain’s
Industrial Revolution e.g.:
1757 – Battle of Plassey
1764 – Hargreaves spinning jenny
1769 – Arkwright’s water frame
1779 – Crompton mule (whatever that is)
1785 – Watt’s steam engine
When British first reached India they did not find a backwater country. A report on Indian
Industrial Commission published in 1919 said that the industrial development of India was
at any rate not inferior to that of the most advanced European nations. India was not only
a great agricultural country but also a great manufacturing country. It had prosperous
textile industry, whose cotton, silk, and woollen products were marketed in Europe and
Asia. It had remarkable and remarkably ancient, skills in iron-working. It had its own
shipbuilding industry in Calcutta, Daman, Surat, Bombay and Pegu. In 1802 skilled Indian
workers were building British warships at Bombay. According to a historian of Indian
shipping the teak wood vessels of Bombay were greatly superior to the oaken walls of Old
England. Benares was famous all over India for its brass, copper and bell-metal wares.
Other important industries included the enamelled jewellery and stone carving of Rajputana
towns as well as filigree work in gold and silver, ivory, glass, tannery, perfumery and
All this altered under the British leading to the de-industrialisation of India – its
forcible transformation from a country of combined agriculture and manufacture into an
agricultural colony of British capitalism. British annihilated Indian textile industry
because a competitor existed and it had to be destroyed.
Shipbuilding industry aroused the jealousy of British firms and its progress and
development were restricted by legislation. India’s metalwork, glass and paper industries
were likewise throttled when British government in India was obliged to use only
The vacuum created by the contrived ruin of the Indian handicraft industries, a process
virtually completed by 1880, was filled with British manufactured goods. Britain’s
industrial revolution, with its explosive increase in productivity made it essential for
British capitalists to find new markets. India turned from exporter of textile or
importer. British goods had to have virtually free entry while entry into Britain of India
goods was met with prohibitive tariffs. Direct trade between India and the rest of the
world had to be curtailed. Horace Hayman Wilson in 1845 in The History of British India from 1805 to
1835 said the foreign manufacturer employed the arm of political injustice to keep down
and ultimately strangle a competitor with whom he could not have contended on equal terms.
While there was prosperity for British cotton industry there was ruin for millions of
Indian craftsmen and artisans. India’s manufacturing towns were blighted e.g. Decca once
known as the Manchester of India, and Murshidabad-Bengal’s old capital which was once
described in 1757 as extensive, populous and rich as London. Millions of spinners, and
weavers were forced to seek a precarious living in the countryside, as were many tanners,
smelters and smiths.
India was made subservient to the Empire and vast
wealth was sucked out of the subcontinent. Economic exploitation was the root cause of the
Indian people’s poverty and hunger. Under Imperial rule the ordinary people of India grew
steadily poorer. Economic historian Romesh Dutt said half of India’s annual net revenues
of £44m flowed out of India. The number of famines soared from seven in the first half of
19th Century to 24 in second half. According to official figures, 28,825,000 Indians
starved to death between 1854 and 1901. The terrible famine of 1899-1900 which affected
474,000 square miles with a population almost 60 million was attributed to a process of bleeding the peasant, who were
forced into the clutches of the money-lenders whom British regarded as their mainstay for
the payment of revenue. The
Bengal famine of 1943, which claimed 1.5million victims were accentuated by the
authority’s carelessness and utter lack of foresight.
Rich though its soil was, India’s people were hungry and miserably poor. This grinding
poverty struck all visitors – like a blow in the face as described by India League
Delegation 1932. In their report Condition of India 1934 they had been appalled at the
poverty of the Indian village. It is the home of stark want…the results of uneconomic
agriculture, peasant indebtedness, excessive taxation and rack-renting, absence of social
services and the general discontent impressed us everywhere..In the villages there were no
health or sanitary services, there were no road, no drainage or lighting, and no proper
water supply beyond the village well. Men, women and children work in the fields, farms
and cowsheds…All alike work on meagre food and comfort and toil long hours for
Jawarharlal Nehru wrote that those parts of India which had been longest under British
rule were the poorest: Bengal once so rich and flourishing after 187 years of British rule
is a miserable mass of poverty-stricken, starving and dying people.
India was sometimes called the ‘milch cow of the Empire’, and indeed at times it seemed to
be so regarded by politicians and bureaucrats in London. Educated Indians were embittered
when India was made to pay the entire cost of the India Office building in Whitehall. They
were further outraged when in 1867 it was made to pay the full costs of entertaining two
thousand five hundred guests at a lavish ball honouring the Sultan of Turkey.
In India, the hunger and poverty experienced by the majority of the population during the
colonial period and immediately after independence were the logical consequences of two
centuries of British occupation, during which the Indian cotton industry was destroyed,
most peasants were put into serfdom (after the British modified the agrarian structures
and the tax system to the benefit of the Zamindars – feudal landlords) and cash crops (indigo, tea, jute) gradually replaced
traditional food crops. Britain’s profits throughout
the 19th century cannot be measured without taking into account the 28 million Indians who
died of starvation between 1814 and 1901.
In 2020.AD- Britain will be poor and hungry, India
will be richer
May 9 2004, 05:27 AM
May 9 2004, 05:35 AM
Check this book – your will get complete history how Britain raped India.
*Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines
and the Making of the Third World by Mike Davis
Some reference you can find in this book.
Clash of Civilization
by Sam Huntington
May 9 2004, 08:49 AM
QUOTE(patrick @ May 8 2004, 04:42 PM)
I am doing a school paper, and I would like some feed back from users on this board.
Patrick, Welcome to the forum. It would be nice to see your own research on this topic so
far. Or you can use the thread to bounce off a few thoughts or ideas with other forum
Someone else had created a thread on this topic a while back which basically went nowhere.
As a thread creator, you if you provide some more material in getting the topic going,
it’ll help your cause.
May 9 2004, 03:06 PM
QUOTE(patrick @ May 9 2004, 02:12 AM)
I am doing a school paper, and I would like some feed back from users on this board.
from where are you?
May 10 2004, 12:38 AM
Dharampal has chronicled the slow strangulation of Indian science and technology ubder
the british in his book ‘Indian Science and Technology’ published by Other india press.
Dharampal (author), Indian Science & Technology in the Eigteenth Century. Mapusa:
Other India Press.
Excerpts from the book are available the following link
Nov 24 2004, 10:19 PM
A book review: Across time and
Across time and geography
LANDSCAPES OF TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER — Swedish Ironmakers in India 1860-1864: Jan af
Geijerstam; Pub. by Jernkontorets Bergshistoriska, Skirftserie-42. Distributed by
Jernkontoret/The Swedish Steel Producers’ Association, Box 1721, Se-111, 87 Stockholm,
Sweden. Price not mentioned.
THE STORY that this brilliantly written book tries to tell is fairly simple. Three Swedes
come to India in the early 1860s to set up charcoal based ironworks at two locations
— Dechauri in the Kumaon hills and Burwai in the Narmada valley in Madhya Pradesh.
After a lot of hardship and after solving a variety of technical, social, logistic and
other problems, Julius Ramsay and Gustaf Wittenstrom set up a large state-of-the-art
charcoal based plant at Dechauri while Mitander started a much smaller plant at Burwai.
The Burwai plant, in spite of an excellent design, encountered problems during its first
production run. It closed down and never operated again.
The Kumaon plant after its erection operated in fits and starts at various times during
1860-80 before it was finally shut down.
The book tries to answer certain basic questions related to these two case histories. Why
were the plants set up and abandoned without really giving them a fair trial? Can these
two case histories be used to understand why it took India such a long time to establish a
viable steel industry? How did the two abandoned projects affect the subsequent
development of the two locations?
Though the questions themselves are fairly simple the way in which these have to be
researched and answered is complex. Understanding connections between technology and
society is neither simple nor obvious. The unique feature of the book is that the author
manages to unravel this complicated chain of cause and effect rather well.
Technology and society
Through use of archived material, field visits, interviews with local people, plans,
photographs and drawings from various sources, the author reconstructs the physical and
social setting of these two projects.
Starting from the macro context of the Empire and the history of iron making, the book
moves effortlessly into the micro detail of the setting up of the plants and their
operations. The origin of the projects, the choice of technology and the social networks
within which they arose and were implemented are described vividly.
The parts played by key actors at various stages of the project, especially the Swedes,
are particularly well captured. Tables of inputs and outputs that benchmark the Indian
plants against their global counterparts, for example, provide a detailed insight into the
technical capabilities of the two plants.
Such snippets placed at appropriate positions in the book connect the micro and the macro
in an easy to understand way.
The final chapters relate the two cases to the larger social, economic and political
context of the British colonisation of India.
The conflicts between local development of resources arising from the resident British and
the local Indian interests, and the imperatives of the British manufacturing and trading
class to capture and monopolise the Indian market that finally leads to the abandonment of
the two projects are well-researched and well-presented.
One of the elements of the Burwai plant set up by Mitander was a scaled down Bessemer
converter. If the projects had become operational India would have been reasonably close
to the state-of-the-art in steel making.
By abandoning the two plants India missed a window of opportunity for internalising the
technology transfer and producing iron and steel products that could compete globally.
This delayed the emergence of the Indian steel industry considerably. This comes through
very logically and convincingly.
Lots of references, footnotes and explanations including details of traditional Indian
iron making technologies embellish the book and reinforce the key points the author wishes
The book can and should be read by all. It will be of particular interest to people
interested in the history of technology and the relationship between technology and
Feb 9 2005, 12:43 PM
Warning: This link may contain virus, hence posting it in full.
The Colonial Legacy – Myths and Popular Beliefs
While few educated South Asians would deny that British Colonial rule was detrimental to
the interests of the common people of the sub-continent – several harbor an illusion that
the British weren’t all bad. Didn’t they, perhaps, educate us – build us modern cities,
build us irrigation canals – protect our ancient monuments – etc. etc. And then, there are
some who might even say that their record was actually superior to that of independent
India’s! Perhaps, it is time that the colonial record be retrieved from the archives and
re-examined – so that those of us who weren’t alive during the freedom movement can learn
to distinguish between the myths and the reality.
Literacy and Education
Several Indians are deeply concerned about why literacy rates in India are still so low.
So in the last year, I have been making a point of asking English-speaking Indians to
guess what India’s literacy rate in the colonial period might have been. These were
Indians who went to school in the sixties and seventies (only two decades after
independence) – and I was amazed to hear their fairly confident guesses. Most guessed the
number to be between 30% and 40%. When I suggested that their guess was on the high side -
they offered 25% to 35%. No one was prepared to believe that literacy in British India in
1911 was only 6%, in 1931 it was 8%, and by 1947 it had crawled to 11%! That fifty years
of freedom had allowed the nation to quintuple it’s literacy rate was something that
almost seemed unfathomable to them. Perhaps – the British had concentrated on higher
education ….? But in 1935, only 4 in 10,000 were enrolled in universities or higher
educational institutes. In a nation of then over 350 million people only 16,000 books (no
circulation figures) were published in that year (i.e. 1 per 20,000).
It is undoubtedly true that the British built modern cities with modern conveniences for
their administrative officers. But it should be noted that these were exclusive zones not
intended for the "natives" to enjoy. Consider that in 1911, 69 per cent of
Bombay’s population lived in one-room tenements (as against 6 per cent in London in the
same year). The 1931 census revealed that the figure had increased to 74 per cent – with
one-third living more than 5 to a room. The same was true of Karachi and Ahmedabad. After
the Second World War, 13 per cent of Bombay’s population slept on the streets. As for
sanitation, 10-15 tenements typically shared one water tap!
Yet, in 1757 (the year of the Plassey defeat), Clive
of the East India Company had observed of Murshidabad in Bengal: "This city is as
extensive, populous and rich as the city of London…" (so quoted in the Indian
Industrial Commission Report of 1916-18). Dacca was even more famous
as a manufacturing town, it’s muslin a source of many legends and it’s weavers had an
international reputation that was unmatched in the medieval world. But in 1840 it was
reported by Sir Charles Trevelyan to a parliamentary enquiry that Dacca’s population had
fallen from 150,000 to 20,000. Montgomery Martin – an early historian of the British
Empire observed that Surat and Murshidabad had suffered a similiar fate. (This phenomenon
was to be replicated all over India – particularly in Awadh (modern U.P) and other areas
that had offered the most heroic resistance to the British during the revolt of 1857.)
The percentage of population dependant on agriculture and pastoral pursuits actually rose
to 73% in 1921 from 61% in 1891. (Reliable figures for earlier periods are not available.)
In 1854, Sir Arthur Cotton writing in "Public Works in India" noted:
"Public works have been almost entirely neglected throughout India… The motto
hitherto has been: ‘Do nothing, have nothing done, let nobody do anything….."
Adding that the Company was unconcerned if people died of famine, or if they lacked roads
Nothing can be more revealing than the remark by John Bright in the
House of Commons on June 24, 1858, "The single city of Manchester, in the supply of
its inhabitants with the single article of water, has spent a larger sum of money than the
East India Company has spent in the fourteen years from 1834 to 1848 in public works of
every kind throughout the whole of its vast dominions."
Irrigation and Agricultural Development
There is another popular belief about British rule: ‘The British modernized Indian
agriculture by building canals’. But the actual record reveals a somewhat different story.
" The roads and tanks and canals," noted an observer in 1838 (G. Thompson,
"India and the Colonies," 1838), ”which Hindu or Mussulman Governments
constructed for the service of the nations and the good of the country have been suffered
to fall into dilapidation; and now the want of the means of irrigation causes
famines." Montgomery Martin, in his standard work "The Indian Empire", in
1858, noted that the old East India Company "omitted not only to initiate
improvements, but even to keep in repair the old works upon which the revenue
The Report of the Bengal Irrigation Department Committee in 1930 reads: "In every
district the Khals (canals) which carry the internal boat traffic become from time to time
blocked up with silt. Its Khals and rivers are the roads end highways of Eastern Bengal,
and it is impossible to overestimate the importance to the economic life of this part of
the province of maintaining these in proper navigable order ……. " "As
regards the revival or maintenance of minor routes, … practically nothing has been done,
with the result that, in some parts of the Province at least, channels have been silted
up, navigation has become limited to a few months in the year, and crops can only be
marketed when the Khals rise high enough in the monsoon to make transport possible".
Sir William Willcock, a distinguished hydraulic engineer, whose name was associated with
irrigation enterprises in Egypt and Mesopotamia had made an investigation of conditions in
Bengal. He had discovered that innumerable small destructive rivers of the delta region,
constantly changing their course, were originally canals which under the English regime
were allowed to escape from their channels and run wild. Formerly these canals distributed
the flood waters of the Ganges and provided for proper drainage of the land, undoubtedly
accounting for that prosperity of Bengal which lured the rapacious East India merchants
there in the early days of the eighteenth century.. He wrote" Not only was nothing
done to utilize and improve the original canal system, but railway embankments were
subsequently thrown up, entirely destroying it. Some areas, cut off from the supply of
loam-bearing Ganges water, have gradually become sterile and unproductive, others
improperly drained, show an advanced degree of water-logging, with the inevitable
accompaniment of malaria. Nor has any attempt been made to construct proper embankments
for the Ganges in its low course, to prevent the enormous erosion by which villages and
groves and cultivated fields are swallowed up each year."
"Sir William Willcock severely criticizes the modern administrators and officials,
who, with every opportunity to call in expert technical assistance, have hitherto done
nothing to remedy this disastrous situation, from decade to decade." Thus wrote G. Emerson in "Voiceless Millions," in 1931 quoting
the views of Sir William Willcock in his "Lectures on the Ancient System of
Irrigation in Bengal and its Application to Modern Problems" (Calcutta University
Readership Lectures, University of Calcutta, 1930)
Modern Medicine and Life Expectancy
Even some serious critics of colonial rule grudgingly grant that the British brought
modern medicine to India. Yet – all the statistical indicators show that access to modern
medicine was severely restricted. A 1938 report by the ILO (International Labor Office) on
"Industrial Labor in India" revealed that life expectancy in India was barely 25
years in 1921 (compared to 55 for England) and had actually fallen to 23 in 1931! In his
recently published "Late Victorian
Holocausts" Mike Davis reports that life expectancy fell by 20% between
1872 and 1921.
In 1934, there was one hospital bed for 3800 people in British India and this figure
included hospital beds reserved for the British rulers. (In that same year, in the Soviet
Union, there were ten times as many.) Infant mortality in Bombay was 255 per thousand in
1928. (In the same year, it was less than half that in Moscow.)
Poverty and Population Growth
Several Indians when confronted with such data from the colonial period argue that the
British should not be specially targeted because India’s problems of poverty pre-date
colonial rule, and in any case, were exacerbated by rapid population growth. Of course, no
one who makes the first point is able to offer any substantive proof that such conditions
prevailed long before the British arrived, and to counter such an argument would be
difficult in the absence of reliable and comparable statistical data from earlier
centuries. But some readers may find the anecdotal evidence intriguing. In any case, the
population growth data is available and is quite remarkable in what it reveals.
Between 1870 and 1910, India’s population grew at an average rate of 19%. England and
Wales’ population grew three times as fast – by 58%! Average population growth in Europe
was 45%. Between 1921-40, the population in India grew faster at 21% but was still less
than the 24% growth of population in the US!
In 1941, the density of population in India was roughly 250 per square mile almost a third
of England’s 700 per square mile. Although Bengal was much more densely inhabited at
almost 780 per square mile – that was only about 10% more than England. Yet, there was
much more poverty in British India than in England and an unprecedented number of famines
were recorded during the period of British rule.
In the first half of the 19th century, there were seven famines leading to a million and a
half deaths. In the second half, there were 24 famines (18 between 1876 and 1900) causing
over 20 million deaths (as per official records). W. Digby, noted in "Prosperous
British India" in 1901 that "stated roughly, famines and scarcities have been
four times as numerous, during the last thirty years of the 19th century as they were one
hundred years ago, and four times as widespread." In Late
Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis points out that here were 31(thirty one)
serious famines in 120 years of British rule compared to 17(seventeen) in the 2000 years
before British rule.
Not surprising, since the export of food grains had increased by a factor of four just
prior to that period. And export of other agricultural raw materials had also increased in
similar proportions. Land that once produced grain for local consumption was now taken
over by by former slave-owners from N. America who were permitted to set up plantations
for the cultivation of lucrative cash crops exclusively for export. Particularly galling
is how the British colonial rulers continued to export foodgrains from India to Britain
even during famine years.
Annual British Government reports repeatedly published data that showed 70-80% of Indians
were living on the margin of subsistence. That two-thirds were undernourished, and in
Bengal, nearly four-fifths were undernourished.
Contrast this data with the following accounts of Indian life prior to colonization:-
" ….even in the smallest villages rice, flour, butter, milk, beans and other
vegetables, sugar and sweetmeats can be procured in abundance …. Tavernier writing in
the 17th century in his "Travels in India".
Manouchi – the Venetian who became chief physician to Aurangzeb (also in the 17th century)
wrote: "Bengal is of all the kingdoms of the Moghul, best known in France….. We may
venture to say it is not inferior in anything to Egypt – and that it even exceeds that
kingdom in its products of silks, cottons, sugar, and indigo. All things are in great
plenty here, fruits, pulse, grain, muslins, cloths of gold and silk…"
The French traveller, Bernier also described 17th century Bengal in a similiar vein:
"The knowledge I have acquired of Bengal in two visits inclines me to believe that it
is richer than Egypt. It exports in abundance cottons and silks, rice, sugar and butter.
It produces amply for it’s own consumption of wheat, vegetables, grains, fowls, ducks and
geese. It has immense herds of pigs and flocks of sheep and goats. Fish of every kind it
has in profusion. From Rajmahal to the sea is an endless number of canals, cut in bygone
ages from the Ganges by immense labour for navigation and irrigation."
The poverty of British India stood in stark contrast to these eye witness reports and has
to be ascribed to the pitiful wages that working people in India received in that period.
A 1927-28 report noted that "all but the most highly skilled workmen in India receive
wages which are barely sufficient to feed and clothe them. Everywhere will be seen
overcrowding, dirt and squalid misery…"
This in spite of the fact that in 1922 – an 11 hour day was the norm (as opposed to an 8
hour day in the Soviet Union.) In 1934, it had been reduced to 10 hours (whereas in the
Soviet Union, the 7 hour day had been legislated as early as in 1927) What was worse,
there were no enforced restrictions on the use of child labour and the Whitley Report
found children as young as five – working a 12 hour day.
Perhaps the least known aspect of the colonial legacy is the early British attitude
towards India’s historic monuments and the extend of vandalism that took place. Instead,
there is this pervasive myth of the Britisher as an unbiased "protector of the
nation’s historic legacy".
R.Nath in his ‘History of Decorative Art in Mughal Architecture’ records that scores of
gardens, tombs and palaces that once adorned the suburbs of Sikandra at Agra were sold out
or auctioned. "Relics of the glorious age of the Mughals were either destroyed or
converted beyond recognition..". "Out of 270 beautiful monuments which existed
at Agra alone, before its capture by Lake in 1803, hardly 40 have survived".
In the same vein, David Carroll (in ‘Taj Mahal’) observes: " The forts in Agra and
Delhi were commandeered at the beginning of the nineteenth century and turned into
military garrisons. Marble reliefs were torn down, gardens were trampled, and lines of
ugly barracks, still standing today, were installed in their stead. In the Delhi fort, the
Hall of Public Audience was made into an arsenal and the arches of the outer colonnades
were bricked over or replaced with rectangular wooden windows."
The Mughal fort at Allahabad (one of Akbar’s favorite) experienced a fate far worse.
Virtually nothing of architectural significance is to be seen in the barracks that now
make up the fort. The Deccan fort at Ahmednagar was also converted into barracks. Now,
only its outer walls can hint at its former magnificence.
Shockingly, even the Taj Mahal was not spared. David Carroll reports: "..By the
nineteenth century, its grounds were a favorite trysting place for young Englishmen and
their ladies. Open-air balls were held on the marble terrace in front of the main door,
and there, beneath Shah Jahan"s lotus dome, brass bands um-pah-pahed and lords and
ladies danced the quadrille. The minarets became a popular site for suicide leaps, and the
mosques on either side of the Taj were rented out as bungalows to honeymooners. The
gardens of the Taj were especially popular for open-air frolics….."
"At an earlier date, when picnic parties were held in the garden of the Taj, related
Lord Curzon, a governor general in the early twentieth century, "it was not an
uncommon thing for the revellers to arm themselves with hammer and chisel, with which they
wiled away the afternoon by chipping out fragments of agate and carnelian from the
cenotaphs of the Emperor and his lamented Queen." The Taj became a place where one
could drink in private, and its parks were often strewn with the figures of inebriated
Lord William Bentinck, (governor general of Bengal 1828-33, and later first governor
general of all India), went so far as to announce plans to demolish the best Mogul
monuments in Agra and Delhi and remove their marble facades. These were to be shipped to
London, where they would be broken up and sold to members of the British aristocracy.
Several of Shahjahan’s pavilions in the Red Fort at Delhi were indeed stripped to the
brick, and the marble was shipped off to England (part of this shipment included pieces
for King George IV himself). Plans to dismantle the Taj Mahal were in place, and wrecking
machinery was moved into the garden grounds. Just as the demolition work was to begin,
news from London indicated that the first auction had not been a success, and that all
further sales were cancelled — it would not be worth the money to tear down the Taj
Thus the Taj Mahal was spared, and so too, was the reputation of the British as
"Protectors of India’s Historic Legacy" ! That innumerable other monuments were
destroyed, or left to rack and ruin is a story that has yet to get beyond the specialists
in the field.
India and the Industrial Revolution
Perhaps the most important aspect of colonial rule was the transfer of wealth from India
to Britain. In his pioneering book, India Today, Rajni Palme Dutt conclusively
demonstrates how vital this was to the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Several patents
that had remained unfunded suddenly found industrial sponsors once the taxes from India
started rolling in. Without capital from India, British banks would have found it
impossible to fund the modernization of Britain that took place in the 18th and 19th
In addition, the scientific basis of the industrial revolution was not a uniquely European
contribution. Several civilizations had been adding to the world’s scientific database -
especially the civilizations of Asia, (including those of the Indian sub-continent).
Without that aggregate of scientific knowledge the scientists of Britain and Europe would
have found it impossible to make the rapid strides they made during the period of the
Industrial revolution. Moreover, several of these patents, particularly those concerned
with the textile industry relied on pre-industrial techniques perfected in the
sub-continent. (In fact, many of the earliest textile machines in Britain were unable to
match the complexity and finesse of the spinning and weaving machines of Dacca.)
Some euro-centric authors have attempted to deny any
such linkage. They have tried to assert that not only was the Industrial Revolution a
uniquely British/European event – that colonization and the the phenomenal transfer of
wealth that took place was merely incidental to it’s fruition. But the words of Lord
Curzon still ring loud and clear. The Viceroy of British India in 1894 was quite
unequivocal, "India is the pivot of our Empire …. If the Empire loses any other
part of its Dominion we can survive, but if we lose India the sun of our Empire will have
Lord Curzon knew fully well, the value and
importance of the Indian colony. It was the transfer of wealth through unprecedented
levels of taxation on Indians of virtually all classes that funded the great
"Industrial Revolution" and laid the ground for "modernization" in
Britain. As early as 1812, an East India Company Report had stated "The importance of
that immense empire to this country is rather to be estimated by the great annual addition
it makes to the wealth and capital of the Kingdom….."
Few would doubt that Indo-British trade may have been unfair – but it may be noteworthy to
see how unfair. In the early 1800s imports of Indian cotton and silk goods faced duties of
70-80%. British imports faced duties of 2-4%! As a result, British imports of cotton
manufactures into India increased by a factor of 50, and Indian exports dropped to
one-fourth! A similiar trend was noted in silk goods, woollens, iron, pottery, glassware
and paper. As a result, millions of ruined artisans and craftsmen, spinners, weavers,
potters, smelters and smiths were rendered jobless and had to become landless agricultural
Another aspect of colonial rule that has remained hidden from popular perception is that
Britain was not the only beneficiary of colonial rule. British trade regulations even as they discriminated against Indian
business interests created a favorable trading environment for other imperial powers. By
1939, only 25% of Indian imports came from Britain. 25% came from Japan, the US and
Germany. In 1942-3, Canada and Australia contributed another 8%. In the period immediately
before independence, Britain ruled as much on behalf of it’s imperial allies as it did in
it’s own interest. The process of "globalization" was already taking shape. But
none of this growth trickled down to India. In the last half of 19th century, India’s
income fell by 50%. In the 190 years prior to independence, the Indian economy was
literally stagnant – it experienced zero growth. (Mike Davis: Late Victorian Holocausts)
Those who wish India well might do well to re-read this history so the nation isn’t
brought to the abyss once again, (and so soon after being liberated from the yoke of
colonial rule). While some Indians may wax nostalgic for the return of their former
overlords, and some may be ambivalent about colonial rule, most of us relish our freedom
and wish to perfect it – not gift it away again.
References: Statistics and data for the colonial period taken from Rajni-Palme Dutt’s
India Today (Indian Edition published in 1947); also see N.K. Sinha’s Economic History of
Bengal (Published in Calcutta, 1956); and "Late Victorian Holocausts" by Mike
Bibliography: (For further research into this area)
M. M. Ahluwalia, Freedom Struggle in India,
Shah, Khambata: The Wealth and Taxable Capacity of India
G. Emerson, Voiceless India
W. Cunningham, Growth of English Industry and Commerce in Modern Times
Brooks Adams, The Law of Civilization and Decline
J. R. Seeley, Expansion of England
H. H. Wilson, History of British India
D. H Buchanan, Development of Capitalist Enterprise in India
L. C. A Knowles: Economic Development of the Overseas Empire
L. H. Jenks: The Migration of British Capital
European Domination of the Indian Ocean Trade
From Trade to Colonization – Historic Dynamics of the East India Companies
The Revolutionary Upheaval of 1857
The 2-Nation Theory and Partition
Also see the sections on colonization in: History of Orissa: An introduction and Adivasi
Contributions to Indian Culture and Civilization
For an insight into colonial machinations in the Middle East (and it’s implications for
the Indian subcontinent), see Colonization and Control of the Oil Wealth in the Middle
For an anti-imperialist view from the US, see British Rule in India by William Jennings
Bryan, as it appeared in the New York Journal, Jan. 22, 1899:-
"Wherever it was possible to put in an Englishman to oust a native an Englishman has
been put in, and has been paid from four times to twenty times as much for his services as
would have sufficed for the salary of an equally capable Hindoo or Mohammedan official.
*** At the present time, out of 39,000 officials who draw a salary of more than 1,000
rupees a year, 28,000 are Englishmen and only 11,000 natives. Moreover, the 11,000 natives
receive as salaries only three million pounds a year; the 28,000 Englishmen receive
fifteen million pounds a year. Out of the 960 important civil offices which really control
the civil administration of India 900 are filled with Englishmen and only sixty with
We may well turn from the contemplation of an imperial policy and its necessary vices to
the words of Jefferson in his first inaugural message: "Sometimes it is said that man
cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the
government of others? Or have we found angels in the form of kings to govern him? Let
history answer this question."
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism
Two centuries of colonial rule have also had a strong impact in the cultural and
educational arena. Much of Western historiography has been shaped by thinly veiled
colonial attitudes that continue to dominate the intellectual and philosophical space in
the field of Indology, comparative studies and in anthologies of world history and
culture. India continues to be represented in a form that is often a caricature of Indian
reality. Even when the Indian historical record is not treated with outright contempt,
condescension and superficiality taint mainstream writings on India.
While India was often a source of admiration (or
grudging envy) prior to colonization, the British victory in India led to a sea change in
how India came to be viewed and characterized in the west. Not only was India’s physical
wealth expropriated by colonization, Western social scientists, philosophers and
historians attempted to do the same in the cultural and intellectual space.
See British Education in India
Feb 9 2005, 12:58 PM
Posting in full as some things must be…
British Education in India
As has been noted by numerous scholars of British rule in India, the physical presence of
the British in India was not significant. Yet, for almost two centuries, the British were
able to rule two-thirds of the subcontinent directly, and exercise considerable leverage
over the Princely States that accounted for the remaining one-third. While the strategy of
divide and conquer was used most effectively, an important aspect of British rule in India
was the psychological indoctrination of an elite layer within Indian society who were
artfully tutored into becoming model British subjects. This English-educated layer of
Indian society was craftily encouraged in absorbing values and notions about themselves
and their land of birth that would be conducive to the British occupation of India, and
furthering British goals of looting India’s physical wealth and exploiting it’s labour.
In 1835, Thomas Macaulay articulated the goals of British colonial imperialism most
succinctly: "We must do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us
and the millions whom we govern, a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but
English in taste, in opinions, words and intellect."
As the architect of Colonial Britain’s Educational Policy in India, Thomas Macaulay was to
set the tone for what educated Indians were going to learn about themselves, their
civilization, and their view of Britain and the world around them. An arch-racist, Thomas
Macaulay had nothing but scornful disdain for Indian history and civilization. In his
infamous minute of 1835, he wrote that he had "never found one among them (speaking
of Orientalists, an opposing political faction) who could deny that a single shelf of a
good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia".
"It is, no exaggeration to say, that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written
in Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry
abridgments used at preparatory schools in England".
As a contrast to such unabashed contempt for Indian
civilization, we find glowing references to India in the writings of pre-colonial
Europeans quoted by Swami Vivekananda: "All history points to India as the mother of
science and art," wrote William Macintosh. "This country was anciently so
renowned for knowledge and wisdom that the philosophers of Greece did not disdain to
travel thither for their improvement." Pierre Sonnerat, a French naturalist,
concurred: "We find among the Indians the vestiges of the most remote antiquity….
We know that all peoples came there to draw the elements of their knowledge…. India, in
her splendour, gave religions and laws to all the other peoples; Egypt and Greece owed to
her both their fables and their wisdom
But colonial exploitation had created a new imperative for the colonial lords. It could no
longer be truthfully acknowledged that India had a rich civilization of its own – that its
philosophical and scientific contributions may have influenced European scholars – or
helped in shaping the European Renaissance. Britain needed a class of intellectuals meek
and docile in their attitude towards the British, but full of hatred towards their fellow
citizens. It was thus important to emphasize the negative aspects of the Indian tradition,
and obliterate or obscure the positive. Indians were to be taught that they were a deeply
conservative and fatalist people – genetically predisposed to irrational superstitions and
mystic belief systems. That they had no concept of nation, national feelings or a history.
If they had any culture, it had been brought to them by invaders – that they themselves
lacked the creative energy to achieve anything by themselves. But the British, on the
other hand epitomized modernity – they were the harbingers of all that was rational and
scientific in the world. With their unique organizational skills and energetic zeal, they
would raise India from the morass of casteism and religious bigotry. These and other such
ideas were repeatedly filled in the minds of the young Indians who received instruction in
the British schools.
All manner of conscious (and subconscious) British (and European) agents would henceforth
embark on a journey to rape and conquer the Indian mind. Within a matter of years, J.N
Farquhar (a contemporary of Macaulay) was to write: "The new educational policy of
the Government created during these years the modern educated class of India. These are
men who think and speak in English habitually, who are proud of their citizenship in the
British Empire, who are devoted to English literature, and whose intellectual life has
been almost entirely formed by the thought of the West, large numbers of them enter
government services, while the rest practice law, medicine or teaching, or take to
journalism or business."
Macaulay’s strategem could not have yielded greater dividends. Charles E. Trevelyan,
brother-in-law of Macaulay, stated: " Familiarly acquainted with us by means of our
literature, the Indian youth almost cease to regard us as foreigners. They speak of
"great" men with the same enthusiasm as we do. Educated in the same way,
interested in the same objects, engaged in the same pursuits with ourselves, they become
more English than Hindoos, just as the Roman provincial became more Romans than Gauls or
That this was no benign process, but intimately related to British colonial goals was
expressed quite candidly by Charles Trevelyan in his testimony before the Select Committee
of the House of Lords on the Government of Indian Territories on 23rd June, 1853:
"….. the effect of training in European learning is to give an entirely new turn to
the native mind. The young men educated in this way cease to strive after independence
according to the original Native model, and aim at, improving the institutions of the
country according to the English model, with the ultimate result of establishing
constitutional self-government. They cease to regard us as enemies and usurpers, and they
look upon us as friends and patrons, and powerful beneficent persons, under whose
protection the regeneration of their country will gradually be worked out. ….."
Much of the indoctrination of the Indian mind actually took place outside the formal
classrooms and through the sale of British literature to the English-educated Indian who
developed a voracious appetite for the British novel and British writings on a host of
popular subjects. In a speech before the Edinburgh Philosophical Society in 1846, Thomas Babington (1800-1859), shortly to become Baron Macaulay,
offered a toast: "To the literature of Britain . . . which has exercised an influence
wider than that of our commerce and mightier than that of our arms . . .before the light
of which impious and cruel superstitions are fast taking flight on the Banks of the
However, the British were not content to influence Indian thinking just through books
written in the English language. Realizing the danger of Indians discovering their real
heritage through the medium of Sanskrit, Christian missionaries such as William Carey
anticipated the need for British educators to learn Sanskrit and transcribe and interpret
Sanskrit texts in a manner compatible with colonial aims. That Carey’s aims were
thoroughly duplicitous is brought out in this quote cited by Richard Fox Young: "To
gain the ear of those who are thus deceived it is necessary for them to believe that the
speaker has a superior knowledge of the subject. In these circumstances a knowledge of
Sanskrit is valuable. As the person thus misled, perhaps a Brahman, deems this a most
important part of knowledge, if the advocate of truth be deficient therein, he labors
against the hill; presumption is altogether against him."
In this manner, India’s awareness of it’s history and culture was manipulated in the hands
of colonial ideologues. Domestic and external views of India were shaped by authors whose
attitudes towards all things Indian were shaped either by subconscious prejudice or worse
by barely concealed racism. For instance, William Carey (who bemoaned how so few Indians
had converted to Christianity in spite of his best efforts) had little respect or sympathy
for Indian traditions. In one of his letters, he described Indian music as
"disgusting", bringing to mind "practices dishonorable to God".
Charles Grant, who exercised tremendous influence in colonial evangelical circles,
published his "Observations" in 1797 in which he attacked almost every aspect of
Indian society and religion, describing Indians as morally depraved, "lacking in
truth, honesty and good faith" (p.103). British
Governor General Cornwallis asserted "Every native of Hindostan, I verily believe, is
Victorian writer and important art critic of his time, John Ruskin dismissed all Indian
art with ill-concealed contempt: "..the Indian will not draw a form of nature but an
amalgamation of monstrous objects". Adding: "To all facts and forms of nature it
wilfuly and resolutely opposes itself; it will not draw a man but an eight armed monster,
it will not draw a flower but only a spiral or a zig zag". Others such as George
Birdwood (who took some interest in Indian decorative art) nevertheless opined:
"…painting and sculpture as fine art did not exist in India."
Several British and European historians attempted to
portray India as a society that had made no civilizational progress for several centuries.
William Jones asserted that Hindu society had been stationary for so long that "in
beholding the Hindus of the present day, we are beholding the Hindus of many ages
past". James Mill, author of the three-volume History of British India (1818)
essentially concurred with William Jones as did Henry Maine. This view of India, as an
essentially unchanging society where there was no intellectual debate, or technological
innovation – where a hidebound caste system had existed without challenge or reform -
where social mobility or class struggle were unheard of, became especially popular with
European scholars and intellectuals of the colonial era.
It allowed influential philosophers such as Hegel to
posit ethnocentric and self-serving justifications of colonization. Arguing that Europe
was "absolutely the end of universal history", he saw Asia as only the beginning
of history, where history soon came to a standstill. "If we had formerly the
satisfaction of believing in the antiquity of the Indian wisdom and holding it in respect,
we now have ascertained through being acquainted with the great astronomical works of the
Indians, the inaccuracy of all figures quoted. Nothing can be more confused, nothing more
imperfect than the chronology of the Indians; no people which attained to culture in
astronomy, mathematics, etc., is as incapable for history; in it they have neither
stability nor coherence." With such distorted views of India, it was a small step to
argue that "The British,
or rather the East India Company, are the masters of India because it is the fatal destiny
of Asian empires to subject themselves to the Europeans."
Hegel’s racist consciousness comes out most explicitly in his descriptions of Africans:
"It is characteristic of the blacks that their consciousness has not yet even arrived
at the intuition of any objectivity, as for example, of God or the law, in which humanity
relates to the world and intuits its essence. …He [the black person] is a human being in
Such ideas also shaped the views of later German
authors such Max Weber famous for his "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of
Capitalism," (1930) who in his descriptions of Indian religion and philosophy focused
exclusively on "material renunciation" and the "world denying
character" of Indian philosophical systems, ignoring completely the rich heritage of
scientific realism and rational analysis that had in fact imbued much of Indian thought.
Weber discounted the existence of any rational doctrines in the East, insisting that:
"Neither scientific, artistic, governmental, nor economic evolution has led to the
modes of rationalization proper to the Occident." Whether it was ignorance or
prejudice that determined his views, such views were not uninfluential, and exemplified
the euro-centric undercurrent that pervaded most British and European scholarship of that
Naturally, British-educated Indians absorbed and internalized such characterizations of
themselves and their past. Amongst those most affected by such diminution of the Indian
character was the young Gandhi, who when in South Africa, wished to meet General Smuts and
offer the cooperation of the South African Indian population for the Boer war effort. In a
conversation with the General, Gandhi appears as just the sort of colonized sycophant the
British education system had hoped to create: "General Smuts, sir we Indians would
like to strengthen the hands of the government in the war. However, our efforts have been
rebuffed. Could you inform us about our vices so we would reform and be better citizens of
this land?" to which Gen.Smuts replied: "Mr. Gandhi, we are not afraid of your
vices, We are afraid of your virtues". (Although Gandhi eventually went through a
slow and very gradual nationalist transformation, in 1914 he campaigned for the British
war efforts in World War I, and was one of the last of the national leaders to call for
complete independence from British rule.)
British-educated Indians grew up learning about
Pythagoras, Archimedes, Galileo and Newton without ever learning about Panini, Aryabhatta,
Bhaskar or Bhaskaracharya. The logic and epistemology of the Nyaya Sutras, the rationality
of the early Buddhists or the intriguing philosophical systems of the Jains were generally
unknown to the them. Neither was there any awareness of the numerous examples of
dialectics in nature that are to be found in Indian texts. They may have read Homer or
Dickens but not the Panchatantra, the Jataka tales or anything from the Indian epics.
Schooled in the aesthetic and literary theories of the West, many felt embarrassed in
acknowledging Indian contributions in the arts and literature. What was important to
Western civilization was deemed universal, but everything Indian was dismissed as either
backward and anachronistic, or at best tolerated as idiosyncratic oddity. Little did the
Westernized Indian know what debt "Western Science and Civilization" owed
(directly or indirectly) to Indian scientific discoveries and scholarly texts.
Dilip K. Chakrabarti (Colonial Indology) thus summarized the situation: "The model of
the Indian past…was foisted on Indians by the hegemonic books written by Western
Indologists concerned with language, literature and philosophy who were and perhaps have
always been paternalistic at their best and racists at their worst.."
Elaborating on the phenomenon of cultural colonization, Priya Joshi (Culture and
Consumption: Fiction, the Reading Public, and the British Novel in Colonial India) writes:
"Often, the implementation of a new education system leaves those who are colonized
with a lack of identity and a limited sense of their past. The indigenous history and
customs once practiced and observed slowly slip away. The colonized become hybrids of two
vastly different cultural systems. Colonial education creates a blurring that makes it
difficult to differentiate between the new, enforced ideas of the colonizers and the
formerly accepted native practices."
Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, (Kenya, Decolonising the Mind),
displaying anger toward the isolationist feelings colonial education causes, asserted that
the process "…annihilates a peoples belief in their names, in their languages, in
their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and
ultimately in themselves. It makes them see their past as one wasteland of non-achievement
and it makes them want to distance themselves from that wasteland. It makes them want to
identify with that which is furthest removed from themselves".
Strong traces of such thinking continue to infect young Indians, especially those that
migrate to the West. Elements of such mental insecurity and alienation also had an impact
on the consciousness of the British-educated Indians who participated in the freedom
In contemporary academic circles, various false theories continue to percolate. While some
write as if Indian civilization has made no substantial progress since the Vedic period,
for others the clock stopped with Ashoka, or with the "classical age" of the
Guptas. Some Islamic scholars have attempted to construct a more positive view of the
Islamic reigns in India, but continue to concur with colonial scholars in seeing
pre-Islamic India as socially and culturally moribund and technologically backward. A
range of scholars persist in basing their studies on views of Indian history that not only
concentrate exclusively on its negative traits, but also fail to situate the negative
aspects of Indian history in historical context. Few have attempted to make serious and
objective comparisons of Indian social institutions and cultural attributes with those of
other nations. Often the Indian historical record is unfavorably compared with European
achievements that in fact took place many centuries later.
Unable to rise above the colonial paradigms, many post-independence scholars of Indian
history and civilization continue to fumble with colonially inspired doctrines that run
counter to the emerging historical record. Others more conscious of British distortions
and frustrated by the hyper-critical assessment of some Indian scholars, go to the other
extreme of presenting the Indian historical record without any critical analysis
whatsoever. Some have even attempted to construct artificially hyped views of Indian
history where there is little attempt to distinguish myth from fact. Strong communal
biases continue to prevail, as do xenophobic rejections of even potentially useful and
valid Western constructs, even as Western-imposed hegemonic economic systems and
exploitative economic models continue to dominate the Indian economic landscape and often
find unquestioning acceptance.
Thus, one of the most difficult tasks facing the Indian subcontinent is to free all
scholarship concerning its development and its relationship to the world from the biased
formulations and distortions of colonially-influenced authors. At the same time, Indian
authors also need to study the West and other civilizations with dispassionate objectivity
– eschewing both craven and uncritical admiration and xenophobic skepticism and distrust
of the scientific and cultural achievements made by others.
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THE AGE OF GUNPOWDER EMPIRES, 1450–1800
WILLIAM H. MCNEILL
This essay explores the advent of gunpowder weapons and how the use of these weapons changed the balance of power in warfare, transforming global history by leading to a period of dominance by Western European powers. The essay compares European, Russian, Islamic, Chinese, and Japanese uses of gunpowder weapons and explores how these powers fit guns into their political, military, and cultural systems.
William H. McNeill is Robert A. Millikan Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Chicago.
1989. 49 pages
One of the recurring themes in history is the cyclical nature of nations and empires.
Civilizations are born, reach their zenith under extraordinary leaders, and over time lose their vitality and strength. The remarkable feature in this cycle is that new civilizations emerge out of the decadence of the old, regenerated by new leaders and by outside cultural influences, often resulting in cultural synthesis. Such were the circumstances under which the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal empires emerged between 1300
and 1650. Coming on the heels of the Mongol and Timurid conquests in Southwest Asia and Anatolia, new Muslim Turcic dynasties began the process of consolidating and extending their realms with military might enhanced by the use of gunpowder weaponry.
Conquering an empire is not synonymous with establishing imperial authority, and the
rulers of the new empires faced a monumental task in establishing an effective governing
structure for their domains. Built upon the foundations of pre-existing cultural
institutions and ethnically diverse populations, the most outstanding emperors realized
that the vitality of their empires required a considerable degree of toleration for their
non-Muslim subjects-an ideal that stood in sharp contrast to the policies adopted by their
contemporary counterparts in Christian Europe.
In the sixteenth century, the Asian empires were clearly ascendant, controlling the
East-West trade routes and drawing on the ample resources and manpower existing within
their realms. Emperors also encouraged artistic endeavors which endure both as an
expression of cultural synthesis and as evidence of imperial greatness. But in the
latter-half of the seventeenth century, the Islamic
“gunpowder empires” began to decline. A primary factor in
their decline was Christian Europe’s economic and technological advances during the
seventeenth century. Other significant factors include the degeneration in the character
of ruling dynasties, the increasing inefficiency and ineffectiveness of governing
institutions over time, and deviation from policies that drew on the strengths of
multiculturalism and ethnic diversity as pillars of the imperial system.
Rise of the Gunpowder Empires
One of the most notable worldwide developments of the
seventeenth century was the emergence of several large-scale empires. Using newly
developed firearms, especially cannon, a small number of states extended their control
over the Americas, large parts of Asia, and central Eurasia. In addition to firearms,
these empires had the advantage of expanding transportation and trade networks.
Categories: Expansion and land acquisition; science and technology; government and
Akbar (1542-1605), Mughal emperor of India, r. 1556-1605
Mehmed II (1432-1481), Ottoman sultan, r. 1444-1446, 1451-1481
Mehmed IV Avci (1642-1693), Ottoman sultan, r. 1648-1687
Alexis (1629-1676), czar of Russia, r. 1645-1676
Ismail I (1487-1524), shah of Persia and founder of the Safavid Dynasty, r.
Abbas the Great (1571-1629), shah of Persia, r. 1588-1629
Shah Jahan (1592-1666), Mughal emperor of India, r. 1628-1658
Ivan the Great (1440-1505), grand duke of Moscow, 1462-1505
Philip II (1527-1598), king of Spain, r. 1556-1598, and Portugal as Philip I, r.
Charles II (1661-1700), king of Spain, r. 1665-1700
Summary of Events
The term “gunpowder empire”
is usually traced to the work of historian Marshall G. Hodgson, who sought to explain the
rise of empires in the Islamic world. He used the term to describe new forms of states
that appeared in Turkey, Persia, and Mughal India. According to Hodgson, artillery and
other firearms had wide social and political consequences for these states. Because
acquiring and maintaining guns demanded a highly developed government administration and
extensive financial resources, the use of gunpowder tended to produce highly centralized
governments that could buy large quantities of tin and copper, manufacture weapons, and
train soldiers in the use of firearms. Other historians have adopted this term to refer to
states outside the Islamic region that used gunpowder technology to extend their control
over territories that were less advanced technologically.
The Chinese appear to have been the earliest people to make use of gunpowder for warfare.
In the thirteenth century, the Chinese developed gunpowder
that was high in nitrates and made use of it in cylindrical metal barrels. By the end of
the thirteenth or beginning of the fourteenth century, the Chinese were making use of
small handguns. The technology quickly made its way to Europe, and the Europeans improved
on it to create large cannon. The effectiveness of cannon in warfare led others to take
them up eagerly.
The Turkish Ottoman Empire was one of
the earliest and longest-lasting of the gunpowder empires promoted by the spread of cannon
and other firearms. The Turks had been pushed into the Near East from the eighth century
onward by Mughal expansion in their original territory, around what is now Turkestan. At
the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Turkish leader Osman I (c. 1258-1326)
declared himself sultan, founding the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans spread their control
over the area formerly held by the Eastern Roman Empire, also known as the Byzantine
Empire. In 1453, Sultan Mehmed II (r. 1444-1446 and 1451-1481) conquered Constantinople,
bringing the Byzantine Empire to an end.
In their early years, Ottoman power was based on its cavalry. The Turks would make
extensive use of firepower, using large cannon in their siege of Constantinople. They
coordinated artillery with the use of cavalry and created an elite infantry corps known as
the Janissaries. The Janissaries were child slaves taken from Christian parents and raised
as Muslims. They were trained to be expert in the use of firearms.
With its capital in Istanbul, as
Constantinople became known, the Ottoman Empire developed into a centralized
administration, funding the military use of firearms to spread its power through most of
the Middle East and north and west into the Balkan Peninsula of Europe. For a time, it
looked as if the guns of the Ottomans would carry them even farther. In 1529, the Turks
laid siege to Vienna. Sultan Mohammed IV attempted a second assault on Central Europe
beginning in 1663, and he put Vienna under siege again in 1683. Although the Turks
continued to hold much of the territory they had taken by the end of the seventeenth
century and fought other wars against the Europeans, their empire was in a state of
decline until its end in the early twentieth century.
The Safavid Empire of Persia also
relied on the use of gunpowder for its power, and gunpowder seems to have shaped its
structure. During the first half of the sixteenth century, Shah Ismail I led his Safavid
warriors to found a new Persian empire in Iran. The Safavid Empire lasted until 1722, and
the Shiite branch of the Islamic faith established by Ismail continues to be the dominant
and contemporary religion of Iran today. Under Shah Abbas the Great, at the end of the
sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth centuries, Safavid Persia took on the
characteristics identified by Marshall Hodgson as those of a gunpowder empire.
The Safavids‘ hold on their
territory had weakened considerably after the death of Shah Ismail. Shah Abbas drove out
foreigners, including Ottomans, who had made incursions into his territory. In doing this,
he used a military force based on the use of gunpowder. He
brought in an English adviser to help him reorganize and train his army. He divided this
army into three bodies of troops–the slaves, the musketeers, and the artillerymen–all of
whom were paid from a central treasury. He also created a strong, professionalized,
central administration for organizing, training, and supplying this military force. In
order to obtain the funds to maintain the political and military structures of the nation,
the sixteenth century Safavids fostered trade with Europe,
industry, and an elaborate system of communication.
To the east of the Ottomans and the
Safavids, the Mughals shaped an Indian empire. The founder of this empire was Babur
(1483-1530), a Turkic prince of Central Asia said to be descended from the conquerors
Tamerlane (Timur) and Genghis Khan. Babur was driven out of Central Asia and descended
into northern India, where he established Mughal rule. Babur’s grandson, Akbar, is
considered the greatest of the Mughals. Akbar extended his empire to include all of
northern and part of central India. His ability to do this resulted from the centralized
organization of his political and military structures. The emperor ruled through high
officials known as mansabs, who were top administrative or military officials who
governed provinces, occupied key bureaucratic positions, or recruited and trained
soldiers. Akbar’s army relied heavily on the infantry, which was supplied with muskets,
and on heavy artillery, using cannon. Much of his success came from the inability of
competing powers in India to afford artillery or to train and maintain armed infantry.
Akbar was succeeded by his son Jahangir and his grandson Shah Jahan, builder of the famous
Taj Mahal. These two rulers maintained the army and administration created by Akbar. Under
Jahan, the Mughal Empire is said to have reached its highest point culturally.
The concept of the gunpowder empire also has been extended to include non-Islamic nations
that achieved wide territorial power through firepower and centralized administration.
Russia, in the center of the Eurasian landmass, followed a pattern of expansion similar in
ways to that of the Ottomans, the Safavids, and the Mughals. Ivan the Great (1440-1505),
grand duke of Moscow from 1462 to 1505, combined a centralized state with the new
technology of artillery to begin Russia’s rise from a marginal territory dominated by the
Mughals in the south to a major empire.
Ivan’s son, Ivan the Terrible, became the first czar of Russia. In the seventeenth
century, the Romanov Dynasty came to power and accelerated the development of the state
and the army. In particular, during the reign of Czar Alexis, the Russian army became a
permanent, professional force, trained in the use of artillery and muskets. This made
Russia successful in its wars against its western neighbors, Sweden and Poland, and
prepared it for its spread across the east and southeast. Alexis’s son, Peter the Great,
on the throne from 1682 to 1725, pushed the centralization of authority, the organization
of bureaucracy, and the professionalization of the military even further. Under Peter,
Russia created an effective navy armed with artillery.
The maritime empires of the Iberian states, Portugal and Spain, also are frequently
described as gunpowder empires. Both of these nations
at the southwestern tip of Europe made use of ships designed to carry large cannon to
dominate other parts of the world. During the reign of King Philip II, Spain’s heavily
armed ships made Spain one of the major European powers, as it took over much of the
Americas. By 1600, the vast territories from New Mexico and Florida in the north to the
tip of South America were under Spanish control. Only Brazil, taken by the Portuguese, was outside the Spanish Empire. Portugal had employed its own ships to establish itself in Goa, on India’s
Malabar Coast; in the Moluccas, in the East Indies (now called Indonesia); and in Macao,
off the coast of China. However, Portugal was forced into a union with Spain from 1580 to
1740. By the end of the seventeenth century, the period of the Iberian empires had passed.
Following the death of Spanish king Charles II, in 1700, other European powers became
involved in fighting over who would succeed Charles and Spain’s period of greatness ended.
By the seventeenth century, the
advancement of firearms technology by well-organized military forces enabled a small
number of states to spread their power over vast portions of the globe. The Ottoman Empire
came to dominate much of the Islamic world. Even after centuries of decline, at the
beginning of World War I, in 1914, the Ottoman Empire still controlled or influenced much
of the Middle East. Although the Safavid Dynasty did not conquer as wide a territory as
did the Ottomans, or survive as long, the Safavids had a lasting influence on the
civilization of Iran and helped to establish Shiite Islam in several countries in the
Similarly, weapons and centralized administration enabled Russia to begin its
transformation from a weak marginal state under the grand duke of Moscow into one of the
world’s largest empires. The rise to power of Spain and Portugal, just before and during
the seventeenth century, placed much of the Western Hemisphere under Iberian control and
resulted in Spanish becoming one of the world’s most widely spoken languages.
Carl L. Bankston III
Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W.
W. Norton, 1996. Offers an alternative to the gunpowder empire explanation of
political dominance, placing an emphasis on the role of the physical environment in
shaping the development of nations.
Hodgson, Marshall G. S. The Venture
of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization. Vol. 3 in The Gunpowder
Empires and Modern Times. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974. The key work on
gunpowder empires in the Islamic world and on the concept of the “gunpowder
empire” in the development of civilizations around the world.
McNeill, William H. The Age of Gunpowder Empires, 1450-1800. Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association.
Describes how different nations adapted the cultural, political, and military systems to the use of gunpowder and how gunpowder changed the global balance of power.
_______. The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society Since A.D. 1000.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984. Considers how military conflict and technology have been connected in bringing about change in human societies.
_______. A World History. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. A grand narrative of world civilizations. Part 3 explores gunpowder empires and world history.
See Also: 17th century: Rise of Proto-Industrial Economies; 1623-1640: Reign of Murad
IV; 1632-c. 1650: Shah Jahan Builds the Taj Mahal; 1629: Safavid Dynasty Flourishes Under
Abbas the Great; January 14, 1641: Capture of Malacca Leads to Dutch Trade Dominance;
1642-1666: Reign of Shah Abbas II; February 13, 1668: Spain Recognizes Portugal’s
Independence; 1687-1697: Decline of the Ottoman Empire.
In Great Lives from History: The 17th Century, 1601-1700: Abbas the Great; Alexis;
Charles II (of Spain); Shah Jahan.