ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Historiography sans History

A Response to Tirthankar Roy

Responding to Tirthankar Roy's article "The Economic Legacies of Colonial Rule in India: Another Look" (EPW, 11 April 2015), which reinterprets the economic legacy of British rule in India, this article critically interrogates the relationship between ideology, perspective, and method in an emerging strand of economic history. This strand tries to make history writing on colonialism consistent with the rationalisation(s) of contemporary globalisation. This article traces the ideological basis of "neutrality," explores the conceptual and historical fallacies of the "openness" paradigm, and assesses the methodological inconsistencies of cost-benefit analysis in the historiography of reinterpretations of colonialism in India.

Tirthankar Roy “The Economic Legacies of Colonial Rule in India: Another Look” (EPW, 11 April 2015) in taking “another look” at the “economic legacies of colonial rule in India” argues that British colonialism fostered India’s openness to the inflow of ideas, skills and knowledge from Britain, which served India well in terms of new institutions and the overall “modernisation” of the economy. This was supposedly achieved through the military-fiscal state, started by the East India Company, and consolidated by the British Crown after 1858; and the integration of sea-trade by the British on a world scale, leading to “early globalisation.”

The former is claimed to have politically unified the Indian subcontinent like never before, while the latter integrated India within the global economy. “Openness” increased commercialisation, which allowed the survival of artisanal skills, and led to a reorganisation of the handicrafts sector on more efficient lines. This was one of the main benefits that India accrued, apart from cosmopolitanism, modern English education and investments.

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