on 18 November 2007
I teach several university courses on South Asia, and this new survey is proving extremely popular with students. The simple reason, I think, is that it is very intuitively structured.
An introductory chapter lays out key aspects of South Asia's richly diverse and multi-layered society and culture, managing to offer anthropological as well as historical perspectives without either overwhelming or patronising the general reader. This is a considerable achievement given the complexity of the subject matter, and it is accomplished without shying-away from contentious aspects of South Asian life and history - instead treating them sensitively and refreshingly straightforwardly.
The bulk of the book then takes the reader from the last decades of the Mughal Empire, through the period of British colonial rule, movements of resistance, Independence, partition and post-colonial India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka - all the way into the present century. Part of the book's mission is to tease out the role of ordinary people in South Asian history, particularly where resistance to colonial rule - and then to some of the less successful forms of post-colonial rule - is concerned. This has been a central concern in South Asian scholarship for quite a while now but a general survey that carries on through 1947 and Independence rather than making it an ending or starting point is valuable indeed - not least since so many of South Asia's current political and social challanges have important origins or catalysts in the pre-colonial and colonial periods.
A book of this scope has to make sacrifices, and specialists may feel that their own areas have been short-changed in places or that small, isolated incidents of resistance are given too much space in a book that needs to cover a great deal of ground. But the author moves very well from such areas, which are still heavily under-represented in histories of the anti-colonial movement and need to be aired, to aspects of South Asian history - Gandhi, Nehru and the rest - that are more familiar. The result is an account of events and processes that coheres very well.
Its rich thematic bibliography - 45 pages long - is a major asset for the book, while one of the advantages of the main text is that it introduces shifts in the historiography in the course of dealing with the history itself. This is clearly of great use to students and to general readers interested in how academic as well as political perceptions about South Asia have shifted over time, often in relation to new events on the sub-continent.
on 15 April 2011
I can only concur with the other reviews. This is a comprehensive and very well-written introduction to modern South Asian history and an excellent guide for students - whether or not they have any previous knowledge of the subject. With university library resources being increasingly scarce, this is a very important investment. For undergraduate courses I would recommend this over Metcalf and Metcalf as it provides copious referenes to the most important (and most recent) secondary literature - with Bates' book as a starting point most students would be able to navigate the historiography in an independent manner.