Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, New York University (NYU)

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2015
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, New York University (NYU)
'King Coal' in India: Energy, Agriculture, and National Development, 1870s - 1950s

Beginning in the 1870s, British investors and imperial geologists excavated the massive coal-bearing seams of Jharia in the eastern Chotanagpur Plateau. Coal mined in Chotanagpur connected this remote agrarian region with imperial networks of transportation and commerce that spanned the coaling stations of Aden, the railways in East Africa, and the cotton presses of Bombay. Within a matter of two decades, Chotanagpur emerged as India's largest coal-producing region. But social and ecological dislocations caused by colliery investment raised fundamental questions about the relationship between the region's agrarian societies and India's industrial future. Coal enabled urban and industrial growth in the major commercial centers of India, whereas the mines themselves became centers of coercive labor practices, fraudulent land acquisition, and environmental degradation. While nationalist reformers claimed the regional uneven development of Chotanagpur as a feature of imperial capitalism, the politics of the early post-colonial state attested to a deeper structural relationship between the Indian nation and its margins. My dissertation is a study of India's dependence on coal and the politics of economic development that this dependency has produced in the twentieth century. Drawing on a wide array of little used sources – coal company archives, police records, missionary diaries, Indian business journals, geological reports, and state archives in India and the United Kingdom – my dissertation will reconstruct how coal in Chotanagpur went from a commodity at the center of Britain's imperial economy to the primary energy source of India's national development. This research will therefore address itself to studies of agrarian change, environmental history, and new histories of capitalism in South Asia.