India, Modernity and the Great Divergence

Mysore and Gujarat (17th to 19th C.)


India, Modernity and the Great Divergence is an original and pioneering book about India’s transition towards modernity and the rise of the West. The work examines global entanglements alongside the internal dynamics of 17th to 19th century Mysore and Gujarat in comparison to other regions of Afro-Eurasia. It is an interdisciplinary survey that enriches our historical understanding of South Asia, ranging across the fascinating and intertwined worlds of modernizing rulers, wealthy merchants, curious scholars, utopian poets, industrious peasants and skilled artisans. Bringing together socio-economic and political structures, warfare, techno-scientific innovations, knowledge production and transfer of ideas, this book forces us to rethink the reasons behind the emergence of the modern world.
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Biographical Note

Kaveh Yazdani, Ph.D. (2014), is a Postdoc Fellow at the Center for Indian Studies in Africa (CISA), University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He has published a number of articles, including ‘Haidar ‘Ali and Tipu Sultan – Mysore’s 18th Century Rulers in Transition’.

Review Quotes

"a book [...] by a very promising young scholar who should be encouraged and whose substantial contribution deserves acknowedgment. His remarkable industry has assembled a truly impressive range of new sources that illuminate the intellectual, social, and economic life, politics, and military statecraft in Mysore and Gujarat as never before. This adds reference points in the divergence debate that will stimulate many new and fruitful lines of inquiry."
– Erik Grimmler-Solem, Wesleyan University, in: History & Theory. Studies in the Philosophy of History (volume 57, no. 3, sept 2018), pp. 464-481

"Kaveh Yazdani’s work is hugely ambitious. It seeks simultaneously to attempt a micro-history of two advanced commercial regions of India – Mysore and Gujarat in the eighteenth century – and to intervene more broadly in the ongoing debates on modernity and its origins in the context of the great divergence between the west and the rest. In embarking on such a study, Yazdani treads a complex path as he works his way through existing scholarship, conceptual and empirical, to argue for the plurality of historical experience, in this case of modernity. Drawing from an impressive range of archival material and subjecting it to very critical scrutiny, what Yazdani does is to identify all those elements that are commonly understood to embody modernity, to attempt a periodization of modernity and to examine actual social and economic processes in the era of what he calls middle modernity (17th to 19th centuries). These processes contributed very definitively to a new register of experience and social transformation. What marks Yazdani’s work is both his contribution to a deeper understanding of transformation in Asia as well as his choice of methodology that moves away from earlier frames adopted by global and connected histories."
– Lakshmi Subramanian, Professor of History, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta

"Kaveh Yazdani takes his reader on an epic global journey of re-discovery that plies an authentic passage to India in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, shorn of all Eurocentric baggage. On the way over our passenger will be treated to the intriguing sights of a macro-global picture of the world, before disembarking to witness the detailed sights of Mysore and Gujarat, some of which has not been seen before, even by non-Eurocentric revisionists, and none of which to date has been brought together in so much vivid detail. With global and local history combined at its most impressive, this truly remarkable journey is worth every penny of the ticket price."
– John M. Hobson, Professor of Politics and International Relations, University of Sheffield

"My immediate reaction on reading Kaveh Yazdani’s work was unequivocal; monumental and definitive. Through a microscopic analysis of two regions in India, Gujarat and Mysore, Yazdani has deconstructed the complexity of the process of modernization and at the same time provided a new perspective to our understanding of the Great Divergence that took place between the West and the rest. This book is a must read for any historian working on modernity and the Great Divergence."
– Sashi Sivramkrishna, Professor of Economics, Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Bangalore

"Framed by a discussion of the chronological and geographical bounds of modernity, and centering around a detailed analysis of developments in Mysore and Gujarat, Kaveh Yazdan’s new work is one of the most important recent Marxist studies of 17th and 18th century India. Transcending the false polarity offered by Eurocentric and Postcolonial perspectives, Yazdani takes seriously the possibilities for indigenous capitalist development in India, but provides a compelling account of the internal and external factors which combined to prevent it."
– Neil Davidson, Lecturer in Sociology, University of Glasgow

"Recent discussion about modernities and convergences seem to have focused mainly on China. This is why the present book on India and “convergence”, from which I have learned much, is topical and welcome."
– Fredric Jameson, Knut Schmidt-Nielsen Professor of Comparative Literature, Duke University, Durham

"Kaveh Yazdani has assembled an extraordinary range of materials on economic life in Mysore and Gujarat in the long eighteenth century. This wonderful book is essential reading for all those interested in global economic history and in the divergence debate."
– Prasannan Parthasarathi, Professor of History, Boston College

"Yazdani’s book represents a major contribution to the ‘the Great Divide’ debate. It brings India into a central role in global history, using it to link East and West. It also shifts focus from anachronistic national to contemporaneous regional levels of state and economy, posing new questions and finding some strikingly original answers. It is a ‘must-read’ for all those interested in global history."
– David Washbrook, Fellow, Trinity College, University of Cambridge

"Yazdani has made a great addition to scholarship on the Great Divergence. His analysis of military, economic, technical, and political advances in Mysore and Gujarat – two of the most commercially advanced areas of 17th and 18th century India – sheds new light on the nature and complexity of the differences between contemporary Indian and European states. No analysis of the Great Divergence will be credible without taking Yazdani’s research, and Indian developments, into account."
– Jack A. Goldstone, Hazel Professor of Public Policy, George Mason University, Fairfax

"This is an extraordinarily impressive inquiry into European-Asian difference in the early modern period which is as erudite and meticulous as it is ambitious."
– Victor Lieberman, Raoul Wallenberg Distinguished Professor of History, University of Michigan

"Yazdani’s book consists of an intriguing quantity and quality of empirical evidence, with which he is able to enlighten the reader with detailed information on the very similarities and differences between ‘middle modern’ India and Europe."
– Susann Pham Thi (Bielefeld Graduate School In History and Sociology, Universität Bielefeld), in: HistLit 2017-4-088.

Table of contents

Acknowledgements ... xiii
Problem of Quotation and Transliteration ... xvi
List of Illustrations ... xvii
List of Abbreviations ... xvii
Glossary ... xx
Maps ... xxvi

Introduction ... 1
0.1) Preliminary Remarks ... 1
0.2) Purpose of Study ... 2
0.3) Unprinted Primary Sources 11
0.4) Orientalism ... 11
0.5) Eurocentrism ... 13
0.6) Methodology ... 14
0.7) Modes of Production ... 16
0.8) Modernity ... 22
0.9) ‘Simultaneity of the Non-Simultaneous’ ... 31
0.10) Modernity as a Historical Process and the Problem of Periodization ... 32
0.11) Prospect ... 61

1 The Transitional State of India’s History of Ideas, Science, Technology and Culture in the 17th and 18th Centuries ... 66
1.1) Introduction ... 66
1.2) Critical Thinking and Indo-Persian Curiosity vis-à-vis Europe ... 69
1.3) Late 18th Century Indo-Persian Preoccupation with the British Political System ... 79
1.4) Technology ... 84
1.5) Documents and Manuscripts ... 98
1.6) Science and Learning ... 100
1.7) Printing ... 105
1.8) Art, Culture and the Emergence of a ‘Public Sphere’ ... 107
1.9) King Serfoji II ... 111
1.10) Conclusion ... 112

2 Mysore ... 115
2.1) Preliminary Remarks ... 115
2.2) Economy ... 116
2.2.1) Introduction ... 116
2.2.2) Agriculture and Agrarian Social Relations ... 130
2.2.3) Living Conditions ... 165
2.2.4) Commerce and Mercantilism ... 170
2.2.5) Manufacture and Technology ... 184
2.2.6) Property Rights ... 212
2.3) Administration ... 220
2.3.1) Introduction ... 220
2.3.2) Tipu’s Administration ... 223
2.3.3) Revenues ... 227
2.3.4) Conclusion ... 229
2.4) Mobility, Transport and Infrastructure ... 230
2.4.1) Conclusion ... 236
2.5) Military Establishment ... 239
2.5.1) Introduction ... 239
2.5.2) Cavalry ... 244
2.5.3) Infantry and Artillery ... 247
2.5.4) Rocket Technology ... 251
2.5.5) Fortification ... 255
2.5.6) Marine ... 256
2.5.7) Conclusion ... 272
2.6) Education ... 279
2.6.1) Conclusion ... 285
2.7) Foreign Relations and Semi-Modernization ... 285
2.7.1) Introduction ... 285
2.7.2) Missions to France and the Ottoman Empire ... 289
2.7.3) Afghanistan, Persia and the Conspiracies of European Powers ... 299
2.7.4) Conclusion ... 307
2.8) Political Structure – towards the Establishment of an Islamic Theocracy ... 308
2.8.1) Conclusion ... 334
2.9) Resistance and the British Invasion ... 336
2.9.1) Conclusion ... 349
2.10) General Conclusion ... 350

3 Gujarat ... 361
3.1) Preliminary Remarks ... 361
3.2) Economy ... 363
3.2.1) Introduction ... 363
 3.2.2) Agriculture ... 380
3.2.3) Food, Housing, Consumption and Natural Calamities ... 391
3.2.4) Powerful Merchants and Commerce during the 17th and 18th Centuries ... 401
3.2.5) Manufacture and Technology ... 454
3.3) Mobility, Transport and Infrastructure ... 476
3.3.1) Conclusion ... 480
3.4) The State, Property Rights and Commercial Rules and Regulations ... 481
3.4.1) Conclusion ... 492
3.5) Legal Practice – Civil and Criminal Penalties, Rules and Regulations ... 493
3.5.1) Conclusion ... 501
3.6) The Status of Women ... 502
3.6.1) Conclusion ... 510
3.7) The Impact of Caste and Religion ... 510
3.7.1) Conclusion ... 515
3.8) Education ... 515
3.8.1) Conclusion ... 521
3.9) Political Structure ... 522
3.9.1) General Structures of Power ... 522
3.9.2) Decentralization and the Difficulties of the Company’s Consolidation of Power ... 527
3.9.3) Independent Chieftains, Predation, Naval Warfare and Piracy ... 530
3.10) Early Impact of British Rule ... 545
3.10.1) Conclusion ... 552
3.11) General Conclusion ... 553

4 Epilogue – Transition from Middle to Late Modernity ... 557

Appendix ... 577

Bibliography ... 579

Index of Persons ... 646
Index of Places ... 653
Index of Subjects ... 656


All interested in the Rise of the West, Great Divergence and Decline of the East debates, 17th to 19th Century India, Gujarat and Mysore, socio-economic, techno-scientific, military and intellectual history of the ‘early modern’ period.


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