This book is about history's attachment to land. It considers the present day in the context of the past two millennia, because a wide historical view is needed to appreciate the ideas that shape contemporary mentalities, and because earthly environments today are being shaped by long-term historical forces. As the book goes on, I consider some elements of Eurasian history and introduce some ideas about geography, technology, patriarchy, ritual, ecology, and other subjects that situate South Asian farmers in their wider world. I also indicate that more research into the historical dynamics of territoriality is needed to improve our knowledge of culture and political economy. But, like other volumes in The New Cambridge History of India, the main goal of this book is to draw together research by many scholars on a coherent set of historical themes without rehearsing academic debates or piling up citations. The bibliographical essay is a guide to relevant literature that sprawls across the disciplines of history, anthropology, economics, geography, political science, and rural sociology. I apologise for not covering many regions well enough and particularly for slighting Assam, Baluchistan, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Nepal, Orissa, and Sri Lanka. This failure results partly from the state of research but mostly from my own inability to compile appropriate data in the time and space allotted. For these reasons, territories in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan form my central subject matter.
The marginality of agrarian history demands attention. It is not unique to South Asia, but proportionately more books do seem to treat the agrarian past in Europe, the Americas, Russia, China, and Japan. Though culture and political economy are not more detached from the land in South Asia than elsewhere, scholars would seem to think so. This may reflect a more general alienation. As the urban middle-class intelligentsia came into being in the modern world economy, they wove the countryside into their epics of nationality, and, to this day, agrarian history evokes interest to the extent that country folk represent national identity. Everywhere, agrarian history is submerged in the historiography of nations and states. We need to keep this in mind because