ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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South Asian Environmental History

The British Empire and the Natural World: Environmental Encounters in South Asia edited by Deepak Kumar, Vinita Damodaran and Rohan D'Souza (New Delhi: Oxford University Press), 2011; pp XIV + 280,Rs 695.

This volume raises critical questions of scale for historians engaged in writing about south Asia’s environmental past. Its keystone is the intellectual legacy of the pioneering environmental historian Richard Grove. Grove argues that the British empire provides the expansive spatial and temporal scales needed to properly explain the emergence of modern environmental ideas and processes of ecological change. Inspired by Grove’s approach, this volume’s editors and contributors expand upon his vision to make two significant interventions in current historiographical debates. First, they show how the spatial scale of Britain’s empire – consisting of colonial territories and imperial networks that spanned the globe – enables south Asian environmental historians to effectively globalise their field. Second, they illustrate how the chronological scale of the British empire – stretching from the early modern to the modern period – enables historians to explain a major transformation in south Asia’s environmental history: the emergence of distinctly modern “environmental encounters” in the form of state regimes driven by the twin imperatives of resource extraction and scientific conservation. Ultimately, The British Empire and the Natural World contributes in substantial ways to ongoing efforts among historians to rethink the scales with which they study south Asia’s environmental past.

An Imperial Scale

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