Negotiating Power in 18th-Century South Asia

AHA Session 116
Society for Advancing the History of South Asia 4
Friday, January 5, 2018: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Congressional Room B (Omni Shoreham, West Lobby)
Abhishek Kaicker, University of California, Berkeley

Session Abstract

This panel explores how individuals--ranging from two eunuch slaves at the Mughal court to an Afghan “warlord”/emperor to a British governor-general of Bengal--negotiated power on the shifting political terrain of eighteenth century South Asia. In recent years, scholars of this period have moved on from Mughal-centered questions of decline versus decentralization and Raj-centered questions of continuity versus rupture. They have increasingly focused instead on the ways in which the languages and practices of power were accommodated and contested at different levels. This “negotiated” understanding of authority dramatically expands the range of acts and actors considered relevant to political history and the history of political thought. Thus the papers in this panel will investigate what kinds of political actors emerged in the eighteenth century; how they engaged the uncertainties and possibilities of the era; to which networks they found recourse (linguistic, social, religious, commercial, political); and what strategies they employed to leverage them.

To address these questions, the papers in this panel will draw on sources including Mughal chronicles, administrative documents, genealogies and regional histories in Persian, as well as personal and official papers in English. They will range spatially from Delhi, the center of Mughal sovereignty; to Punjab, a region contested by the Afghans, Sikhs, Mughals, and Marathas; to the hemisphere-spanning operations of the East India Company. Such spatial diversity speaks to the continued relevance of the Mughal imperial center, on the one hand, and the vigorous political dynamics of provinces like Punjab and Bengal, on the other. It also pushes against the typically local or regional focus of earlier studies by emphasizing the trans-regional and transmarine dimensions of politics and political thought.

See more of: AHA Sessions