The Politics of Warren Hastings’ Scholarly Patronage

Friday, January 5, 2018: 2:10 PM
Congressional Room B (Omni Shoreham)
Joshua Ehrlich, Harvard University
This paper will consider the politics of knowledge in the era of Warren Hastings, the East India Company’s first governor-general of Bengal (1772-85). Hastings’ famously extensive scholarly patronage has been seen, most influentially, as a cultural intervention on behalf of “Orientalist” against “Anglicist” attitudes among the British. This paper will argue, however, that its significance was primarily as a political intervention at local, regional, and imperial levels. The focus will be on two examples of this patronage which demonstrate both its binary-defeating eclecticism and its high political stakes: Hastings’ support of Persianate scholar-administrators of the old nawabi regime and his deployment of Company officials on philosophical missions to Bhutan and Tibet. Drawing on Company records and correspondence as well as Indo-Persian literary sources, the paper will show how the two enterprises played simultaneously into European languages of enlightened commerce and late-Mughal/nawabi languages of power-sharing and conciliation. These languages could be deployed for crucial political purposes at a time when Hastings’s authority, and that of the Company in general, faced unprecedented challenges from British and South Asian sources alike. At the broadest level, this paper will explore the ideological uses of knowledge in the context of interpenetrating relations between politics and trade in the early modern world. The figuration of knowledge as a tradeable commodity might suggest possibilities as well as perils for our own political discourse at a time of increasingly blurred boundaries between states and corporations.
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