The East India Company's history is central to the British experience of trade and territorial expansion overseas. Its longevity, spanning over two and a half centuries from its founding in 1600, and critical role in bringing India and other eastern lands into the British empire, mark the Company out as unique in the nation's history. No less important, those involved in this enterprise have provided a romantic anthology of tales and legends for succeeding generations to pore over. The poetry of Kipling, the prose of Henty and the celluloid stars of the twentieth century in the Bengal Lancers fighting exotic rulers of kingdoms in the Orient, have carried historical fact into fantasy and folklore. National heroes have been carved out of the military exploits of men such as Clive, Hastings and Wellesley, and, in the process, a cult of the Raj developed which has been impossible to eradicate from the mass of literature published on the Anglo-Indian past.
Why this pattern or manner of writing about the East India Company developed is not so surprising from an academic viewpoint. The Company's involvement in the East was an epic story on a grand scale. Moreover, the one thing the Company's history possesses in abundance is archival and secondary material documenting its development. The sheer volume of manuscripts, scholarly books, articles, popular histories and pot-boilers conveying some aspect of the Company's past defies description. It would take several lifetimes to read all that exists today on the East India Company's history and nothing suggests the production will cease in the near future. Scholars on four continents are presently devoted to revealing every detail of the Company's advance, from its humble seventeenth-century origins to full-blown agent of imperialism by 1857.