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7 May 1954 is a day that helped to alter the course of American history. It was on this day that French troops, under siege for two months by Ho Chi Minh’s Vietminh forces, were roundly defeated, signaling the end of France’s efforts to re-exert control over its former Southeast Asian colony. American involvement, however, was to begin to ramp up and continue for the next 21 years.
Popular references to Calcutta (now Kolkata) – once the gleaming capital of British India – in Anglo-American contexts often conjure images of poverty, crowded city streets, unbearable traffic, smog, and residents that require a savior.
Despite the flurry of works over the past 20 years or so which have explored the course and consequences of colonial rule in India, and increasingly the impact that such rule had upon British society, the period before the Battle of Plassey has remained for the most part insulated from questions about the ideologies and operations of territorial governance.
In a 2009 review article on the study of Ireland’s relationship with the British Empire, Stephen Howe lamented the polarity of historiographical opinion surrounding the problems of Irish identity in a British imperial context.
Since the 1980s, secularism in India has been a topic of heated contestation. Advocates for a Hindu nation deride what they call ‘pseudo-secularism’, claiming that it privileges Muslim and Christian minorities against the interests of India’s Hindu majority. Religious minorities, however, consistently appeal to India’s secular constitution to secure their rights.
In the autumn of 1942, as Britain and the United States delicately negotiated the roles each would play in the South and Southeast Asian theatres of war against Japan, British colonial officials in London prepared to counter the American anti-colonial rhetoric which had already accompanied the first Americans dispatched to India in early 1942.
Lucy Chester’s book is a highly readable and accessible effort, which attempts to make two key assertions. Firstly, ‘that the boundary commission headed by Cyril Radcliffe offers a window into the complexity of nationalist dealings with the colonial power structures’ (p.
In the course of a single generation, the British empire was transformed from being a network of self-governing Atlantic communities into a cluster of largely Asian territories acquired, for the most part, through conquest. As countless historians note, the second half of the eighteenth century saw an ‘epochal shift in world power’.
The dissolution of the British Raj in the Subcontinent in 1947, and the accompanying mass migration across the new borders between the newly-independent states of India and Pakistan, are certainly among the most momentous developments in recent history.
Barbara Ramusack bases her study of indirect rule under British imperialism mainly on research, including her own, which has been done since the 1960s. As she reiterates throughout the book, the topic of the ‘Native States’ is not one which has attracted widespread scholarly attention.