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Knowledge, Mediation and Empire

James Todís Journeys among the Rajputs


Florence D'Souza


Studies in Imperialism

Manchester: University Press, 2015

Hardcover. xii+261 p. ISBN 978-0719090806. £75


Reviewed by Timothy Nicholson

Saint Peterís University, Jersey City (New Jersey)



It is difficult to concisely discuss such a complex and nuanced work provided by Florence DíSouza, who uses the life of James Tod (1782-1835) to provide an erudite study of the early, uneven British expansion into South Asia. As a recent addition to John MacKenzieís ďStudies in ImperialismĒ series, DíSouza works to contextualize Todís published and unpublished material within the framework of the Enlightenment. In accomplishing such a goal, the author also highlights the fascinating intellectual exchanges between Tod and the Rajputs and shows how such interactions influenced Todís works. DíSouzaís strength is in detailing Todís approach to the production of knowledge in India, and, in doing so, she demonstrates the contributions colonial studies can make to understanding the largely Eurocentric Enlightenment.

DíSouza analyzes the writings and accomplishments of Tod to provide a postcolonial, intellectual history of early British-Indian interaction. As DíSouza demonstrates throughout the book, Tod, who was well versed in the latest European intellectual movements, worked to understand the historical, topographical, and social intricacies of the Rajput states through which he travels and works. Over the course of his life, Tod published accounts of his travels and experiences with Indian cultures for a European audience using specifically European idioms. DíSouza demonstrates Todís insights into Indian science, anthropology, and the natural world and provides readers the most compressive overview of Todís intellectual endeavors to date. The author places Tod on the very edge of the empire by tracking Tod spatially as he moves between London, British India, and the Rajput territory with ease, straddling the worlds of British literati and indigenous South Asian intellectuals and imperial intermediaries. DíSouza also demonstrates that Tod is a man caught between generations, as he comes after the first generation of prominent Orientalists and leaves India a decade before (and dies just before) the writings of John Stuart Mill and Thomas Macaulay. By highlighting Todís achievements and ability to transcend place and culture, the author shows that Todís efforts in gathering knowledge and understanding Indian life in support of imperial rule were instrumental, yet became controversial.

Throughout DíSouzaís account, readers get a sense of Todís intellectual curiosity and the scope of his extensive travels throughout the subcontinent. The author provides a thematic breakdown of Todís writings and life and details Todís complex relationship between exploration, empire, and the production of knowledge for imperial officials. The first chapter examines how Tod functioned as a naturalist who detailed the unique geography of Western India within European paradigms and familiarities. Tod, in the role of the anthropologist, worked to study Rajput and Gujarati manners, customs, and history. A student of the latest advances in Western thought, Tod furthered scientific thinking by using the latest European advancements in precise measurements and field observation to enhance British understanding of India in terms of topography, geology, and botany. In addition to learning from his contacts, Tod brought Western notions of science to his Indian counterparts while also, in a unique manner, acknowledging Indian scientific techniques, advancements, and classification schemes. Here, Tod acted as an agent of the nascent British colonial state by serving as a colonial agent and continuing to enhance British knowledge of India. However, the story of British rule is complicated, as the transfer of knowledge goes in both directions. Tod, portrayed as a romanticist, examined the specific history of the Rajputs, which allowed him to successfully intervene in the affairs of the Rajputs and resolve local succession disputes. Here, the author is at her strongest as she provides a strong connection with the more well-known Utilitarians, such as James Mill, whose views on the primitive history of India and its stagnated development contrast with Todís more robust view of Indiaís past, nuanced thinking, and more empirical approach. DíSouza later highlights Todís commitment to his Rajput associates, an alliance that damaged his own career. Examining Tod as a romanticist provides the foundations for him to advocate for a more humane involvement and greater respect for Indian culture. In doing so, Tod provided an alternative, although largely ignored, path for British involvement in India. Finally, Tod's intellectual interactions pushed the exchange of knowledge with Indians, an action that immediately distanced him from the imperial administration. In the conclusion, DíSouza relates Todís complex and sometimes contradictory life and accomplishments to his contemporary intellectuals, including Munro, Duff, and Wilks, who also possessed sympathies to the Indian culture they encountered, either as ethnographers or administrators.

Overall, DíSouza clearly has mastered Todís writings and is able to provide a strong contextualization of Todís views. She has thoroughly examined Todís manuscripts, journals, and letters to a variety of contemporaries and calls upon both published and unpublished material. In a well-organized appendix, the author provides letters from Tod to various Indian leaders and scholars, memoranda to the colonial state, and his will. Such material allows readers to get a sense of Todís writing itself and to see exactly where the author forms her arguments.

In contributing to the field of postcolonial studies, DíSouza complicates Saidian notions of Orientalism. As Tod worked with the Rajputs, he acknowledged the unique history of the region. Through detailed analysis of Todís writings, the authorís presentation allows readers to appreciate Todís insights into Western Indiaís intricate geography, history, and life. More than the typical British methodology of dictating notions of knowledge, Tod worked to provide a method of informational exchange with the Indians he encountered, worked with, educated, and learned from. Moving the focus away from language and religion, which dominates the work of the authors' predecessors, such efforts complicate our understanding of knowledge production in a colonial setting.

Just as the author complicates notions of Orientalism, she enhances readersí understandings of British imperialism by providing an overview of a man who does not fit into the colonizer / colonized dichotomy. By straddling a variety of imposed categories in both India and England, Tod sometimes acts as an agent of the imperial state but also advocates on behalf of Rajput subjects, and he never is fully incorporated into either world. Such an approach is important in the scholarship of India, where, perhaps too often, people are slotted into one side or the other. Additionally, DíSouza builds upon the work of Dane Kennedy and others, calling for historians to move beyond the colonized / colonizer dichotomy by highlighting multiple and overlapping agendas. Todís relationships and informants were more of a partnership in which knowledge was exchanged.

Tod provides readers a strong example of the global circulation of knowledge and the spread of ideas, but such implications remain under-examined by the author outside of the specific Indian context. Such connections would further scholars' understanding of the role the world outside of Europe played in shaping the late Enlightenment. Additionally, while the author provides a strong connection to Todís contemporaries, she could link her study more with past and future generations of scholars studying India. Although the author provides the most complete overview of Tod, the chronology of his life is a bit confused by the thematic organization. An earlier overview of Todís life would have assisted readers in their understanding of Tod. For example, his baptism is first mentioned in chapter six. Also, the intellectual history of Todís writing ignores Tod as a person. Finally, the voice of the Rajputs is lost in the intellectual examination of Todís writingósuch intellectuals are clearly more than subjects or even intermediaries; however, their voice is not present. How the Rajputs took advantage of, or even engaged with, the knowledge gained from Tod is overlooked; this historiography would highlight an important aspect of Todís legacy.

Graduate students and scholars of early British forays into India can benefit from DíSouzaís work. Additionally, those interested in the production of knowledge in a colonial setting and the porous boundaries between colonizer and colonized can learn a great deal from Todís life and writings. DíSouza enhances our understanding of the early British empire in India, the production of knowledge needed by the colonial state, and the fluidity of early colonial rule.


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