Knowledge, mediation and empire

James Tod’s journeys among the Rajputs

James Tod (1782-1835) spent twenty-two years in India (1800-1822), during the last five of which he was Political Agent of the British Government in India to the Western Rajput States in north-west India. His book studies Tod’s relationships with particular Rajput leaders and with the Rajputs as a group in general, in order to better understand his attempts to portray their history, geographical moorings and social customs to British and European readers. The book highlights Tod’s apparently numerous motivations in writing on the Rajputs: to bring knowledge about the Rajputs into European circles, to demonstrate that the Rajputs maintained historical records from the early middle ages and were thus not a primitive people without awareness of their own history, and to establish possible ethnic links between the warrior-like Rajputs and the peoples of Europe, as also between the feudal institutions of Rajputana and Europe. Fierce criticisms in Tod’s time of his ethnic and institutional hypotheses about connections between Rajputs and Europeans illustrate that Tod’s texts did not leave his readers indifferent.

The approach adopted uses available documents to go beyond a binary opposition between the colonisers and the colonised in India, by focusing on traces of friendly exchanges between Tod and his British colleagues on the one hand, and on the other hand, various members of the kingdoms of western India, with whom they interacted. Under themes like landscape, anthropology, science, Romantic literature, approaches to government policy, and knowledge exchanges in India and in London, this volume analyses Tod’s role as a mediator of knowledge through his travels across a little-known part of the British Empire in the early 19th century.

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