Penumbral Visions: Making Polities in Early Modern South India

Penumbral Visions: Making Polities in Early Modern South India

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The centuries between 1500 and 1800 were characterized in Asia by a contest between European influence and indigenous political and economic processes. Asian polities did not fold up in the face of Europeans aggression but instead formed new states – some large and imperial, others compact and modest. Characterizing them as “early modern” in their political and fiscal structure, as well as their political culture, Sanjay Subrahmanyam highlights the dynamism and resilience of these indigenous societies before 1800 and in so doing offers readers an analysis of cultural and social history innovatively combined with political, military, and economic history.
Subrahmanyam draws upon sources in Portuguese, Dutch, English, Spanish, and a variety of Indian languages and archives to enter into the lives of south Indian states as Mysore, Tanjavur, and Arcot, which have been neglected by historians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He questions existing theories of decline in precolonial states and also rejects the view that India was characterized by an idyllic social equilibrium that came undone under the establishment of colonial rule. As such, he offers an important intervention in the reinterpretation of South Asian history in the long term and a useful reflection on the history of Eurasian societies in the early modern epoch. Penumbral Visions should attract the interest of not only South Asia scholars but also historians of other parts of the early modern world.

“In Penumbral Visions, Subrahmanyam employs an astonishing linguistic repertoire to address key historiographical debates in early modern Indian history. He confounds the easy dualities that have marked the field, between, the feudal and the modern, the maritime and the inland, the provincial and the imperial, the Muslin and the Hindu, the European and the indigenous, the north and the south. He instances a wealth of new documentation and painstakingly reconstructs dynasties and local economies that had been too little known. He demonstrates the ironies and ambiguities of early modern identitites while sharply questioning some of the easy generalizations proposed by those less familiar with the primary sources than he is. He combines microhistory with an attention to the big questions, and the result is a richly textured contribution to our understanding of the period” Juan Cole, University of Michigan.