Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, History, Mount Holyoke College

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2016
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Brown University
Between Cartridges and Capital: Northeast India and the Indo-Afghan Borderlands in the Long Nineteenth Century

The northeastern and northwestern frontiers of British India entered an imperial economic sphere in the mid-nineteenth century. The British colonial government allied with European and primarily British capitalists to bring large tracts of land under intensive cultivation and offered agricultural advances to native landowners. It sanctioned the construction of rail lines to connect these areas to major towns in British India. It also undertook military expeditions against tribal raids and paid off raiders to ensure the safe passage of commodities through mountain passes. Colonial engagement and the imperatives of an emergent capitalism encouraged the mobility of people and commodities along particular routes while foreclosing others. My dissertation examines how this structuring of circulation, brought to bear by developments within the realm of political economy, shaped northeast India and the Indo-Afghan borderlands in the long nineteenth century. I focus on the appropriation of common lands through waste land and forest laws, extraction of agricultural and mineral resources, and their trade—in the wider neighborhood but specifically in the two frontier markets at Sadiya and Peshawar to analyze how these areas came to be incorporated into an imperial economy. Local communities played a crucial role in this process. They resisted the colonial state, sought to escape itineraries of imperial trade by relying on commercial networks that tied them to populations in Southeast and Central Asia respectively, and contributed to capitalist expansion by serving as laborers, porters and brokers. Drawing on waste land and forest laws, settlement records, trade statements, tour diaries of colonial administrators and route maps of railway companies, I explore how the encounter between the colonial state, private capital and local communities flattened the uneven natural enclaves that were northeast India and the Indo-Afghan borderlands and granted them a spatial coherence.