David Ludden's book offers a comprehensive historical framework for understanding the regional diversity of agrarian South Asia. Adopting a long-term view of history, it treats South Asia not as a single civilisation territory, but rather as a patchwork of agrarian regions, each with its own social, cultural, and political histories. The discussion begins during the first millennium, when institutions of ritual, conquest, and patriarchy formed an archipelago of farming regimes that steadily displaced and assimilated pastoral and tribal communities. It goes on to consider how, from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, the concept of modern territoriality evolved as farmers pushed agriculture to its physical limits and states created permanent rights to all the land. Subsequent chapters focus on the development of agrarian capitalism in village societies, which emerged under the British and which formed the bedrock of the modern political economy. In contemporary South Asia, the book argues, economic development and social movements continue to reflect the influence of agrarian localism and the shifting fortunes of agrarian regions with histories which can be traced back to medieval times.
As a comparative synthesis of the literature on agrarian regimes in South Asia, the book promises to be a valuable resource for students of agrarian and regional history, as well as of comparative world history.
DAVID LUDDEN teaches South Asian and world history at the University of Pennsylvania. His publications include Making India Hindu: Community, Conflict, and the Politics of Democracy (1996) and Peasant History in South India (1985).