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Pandora's post box: Empire and information in British India, 1854-1914

Frost, MR (2016) 'Pandora's post box: Empire and information in British India, 1854-1914.' English Historical Review, 131 (552). 1043 - 1073. ISSN 0013-8266

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Abstract

This essay examines the historical relationship between empire and information in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British Asia through a new examination of the imperial post. It argues that the creation of an Indian penny post in 1854 set in motion an information revolution which impacted regionally on literate and illiterate Indian subjects of the British Empire, on Indian publishers, and on colonial administrators. What historians have so far written about Britain?s imperial post has largely presented it as an instrument of modern colonial state-building. When it has merited attention as an engine of social communication it has been mistakenly judged an outright failure. But, as this essay argues, a study of the imperial post reveals Britain?s colonial state, within the wider context of a very illiberal British imperialism in Asia, trying to behave like a liberal one. While its desire for control and surveillance pulled it in one direction, Victorian notions of free trade, which in turn demanded an unrestricted circulation of information, pulled it in another. These contradictory impulses have largely been ignored in a literature more often focused on the authoritarian aspects of British rule after 1850; yet, as this study suggests, they are fundamental to comprehending both the history of the imperial post and the everyday foundations of Britain's imperial authority in India.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D890 Eastern Hemisphere
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities > History, Department of
Depositing User: Elements
Date Deposited: 24 Jan 2018 18:10
Last Modified: 25 Jan 2018 13:11
URI: http://repository.essex.ac.uk/id/eprint/21150

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