The South Asian Studies Council Colloquium Series presents:
Robert Travers, History, Cornell University: “A Petitioner as Political Theorist: Ghulam Husain Khan Tabataba’i and the Mughal context for colonial state-formation in Bihar.”
This talk is a chapter from my current book project which explores how pervasive practices of petitioning rulers for justice and redress in early modern India formed part of the political context for the rapid consolidation a new colonial state in the late eighteenth century. It offers a new interpretation of the life and political writings of Ghulam Husain Khan Tabataba’i (b. 1727), most famous as the author of a Persian history, the Siyar-ul Muta’akhkhirin or ‘Review of Modern Times’, which was written between 1781 and 1784, quickly translated into English and published in Calcutta. The talk will explore the connections between Ghulam Husain’s career as a politician and landholder in Bihar, and the writing of his history, suggesting how the Siyar can be read as a form of a petition to the East India Company government on behalf of vulnerable Mughal service elites. While Ghulam Husain placed the hearing of petitions of grievance at the center of his idealized conception of Mughal rulership, his own career exemplified the broader movement of Indian petitioners towards the East India Company as the new source of imperial patronage in Bengal. Ghulam Husain’s history thus helps us to understand the critical role of petitioning in the transition to British rule, but also the political tensions arising from different cultural practices and expectations around petitioning rulers.
Robert Travers received his Ph.D. from Cambridge University and is currently Associate Professor of History at Cornell, where he has taught since 2005. He is the author of Ideology and Empire in Eighteenth-Century India. The British in Bengal (Cambridge, 2007), and is currently working on a new study of colonial state-formation in eighteenth-century India, titled ‘An Empire of Complaints. Indian Petitioning and the Making of the British Empire’. His essay on ‘Indian petitioning and colonial state-formation in eighteenth-century Bengal’ is forthcoming in Modern Asian Studies (Jan. 2019).