Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India, 1765-1843

Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India, 1765-1843

Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India, 1765-1843

Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India, 1765-1843

Synopsis

In this fascinating history of the British surveys of India, Matthew H. Edney relates how imperial Britain used modern survey techniques to not only create and define the spatial image of its Empire, but also to legitimate its colonialist activities. "There is much to be praised in this book. It is an excellent history of how India came to be painted red in the nineteenth century. But more importantly, Mapping an Empire sets a new standard for books that examine a fundamental problem in the history of European imperialism."--D. Graham Burnett, Times Literary Supplement "Mapping an Empire is undoubtedly a major contribution to the rapidly growing literature on science and empire, and a work which deserves to stimulate a great deal of fresh thinking and informed research."--David Arnold, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History "This case study offers broadly applicable insights into the relationship between ideology, technology and politics. . . . Carefully read, this is a tale of irony about wishful thinking and the limits of knowledge."--Publishers Weekly

Excerpt

It is difficult to characterize this study succinctly. My intention has been to write a history of cartography, but my subject matter means that I must necessarily address the history of science and the ideology of British India. The study also has overtones which I hope will interest scholars in cultural studies and cultural history. In trying to address as broad an audience as possible, I have had to explain issues and events which some of my readers will think are too obvious to be mentioned, so I must ask for forbearance in advance. Any errors I have made concerning the history of the East India Company are entirely my own responsibility.

My fundamental topic is the multilayered conflict between the desire and the ability to implement the perfect panopticist survey, between what the British persistently thought they had accomplished and the hybrid cartographic image of India which they actually constructed, and between the ideals and practices of knowledge creation in the later Enlightenment. This book is not a detailed explication of all of the East India Company's surveyors and of their work; that has already been accomplished by Reginald Phillimore in his monumental Historical Records of the Survey of India (1945-58). This study is chronologically framed by James Rennell's survey of Bengal (1765-71)--the first extensive survey undertaken by the British in India--and by George Everest's retirement from his joint appointment as surveyor general of India and superintendent of the Great Trigonometrical Survey in 1843, by which time a compromise between cartographic ideals and practices had been effected. My approach is both topical and narrative. Parts One and Two examine in detail my protagonist and antagonist: the epistemologies and methodologies of geography and mapmaking in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, on the one hand, and, on the other, the East India Company's institutional structures which led to what might best be described as "cartographic anarchy." Part Three comprises the narrative of how the attempts to create the perfect survey of India were played out and were eventually compromised. Part . . .

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