01 May 2014


At the Edges of Empire
Essays in the Social and Intellectual History of India

THIRTY YEARS AGO, A BOOK TITLED Caste, Conflict and Ideology:  Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Low Caste Protest in Nineteenth-Century Western India (1985) astonished the world of South Asian Studies, in part because it brilliantly historicized Mahatma Phule and his context, in part because the author was neither a Chitpavan or any other variety of Maharashtrian Brahman but a SOAS scholar who had mined the Marathi sources bewilderingly well. Professor O’Hanlon’s book soon acquired the status of a classic academic work on the history of Maharashtra as well as early Dalit struggle. Most agree that it has not been superseded (it is available in South Asia with a new Introduction as a Permanent Black paperback), in part because it is extremely accessible and attractively written.

Over the last two decades, Rosalind O’Hanlon has engaged with key questions in India’s history, culture, and intellectual life. At the Edges of Empire is the first major collection of her essays. They reflect her interest both in the leading theoretical debates of recent years, particularly in the Subaltern Studies project, and in the development of novel and path-breaking approaches to questions about caste, gender, and religious cultures across a range of historical milieus.  

Some of the essays here explore the new perspectives on colonial social change opened up by the expanding knowledge of India in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Others explore important and little-understood aspects of popular culture, from histories of the male body over the longue durĂ©e, to the institutional framework within which ordinary Hindus developed their understandings of sin and purification. 

The essays range over a broad chronological period, from the development of new understandings of Brahman community and intellectual identity in early modern India, to the modern conflict over the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya. In different ways, each of the essays demonstrates the potential of longer-term historical perspectives for advancing our understanding of pressing issues in India’s colonial past and its present-day  politics.   

ROSALIND O’HANLON is Professor of Indian History and Culture in the University of Oxford.  She took her PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and taught for many years at  Clare College, Cambridge.  Her research interests lie in the social and intellectual history of early modern and colonial India.

Hardback / 560pp / Rs 995 / ISBN 81-7824-381-4 / World rights / May 2014

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