On 31 December 1600, Queen Elizabeth I presented the East India Company [EIC] with the ability to monopolise English trade in the East Indies. The Company, incentivised by the abundance of resources in India, secured a strong foothold in a country that later became their most valuable colony. Through numerous campaigns, the British EIC was not only able to commission the circulation of Indian crops for re-export, but also facilitated the development of foreign technologies and led a world-wide discussion of revolutionary ideas.

The vast historiography of agricultural production during the years of the EIC tends to focus primarily on the political and economic consequences of the Company’s rule during Indian colonisation. The following project, scoped between the Battle of Plassey of 1757 and the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857-1858, will investigate the dynamism of transnational space with regards to agrarian development and circulation under the influence of the Company in India. Rather than approaching this project from simply a socio-economic or political viewpoint, this paper is unique in its examination of the transmission of agricultural practices, ideas and output from a cross-border perspective.

This paper intends to achieve three primary objectives. First, and perhaps most crucially, the development of new technologies and English efforts to improve means of cultivation in India allowed for the formation of transnational networks between the two aforementioned countries. The project will use cartographical evidence to track communication programs and transportation systems that enabled the spread of such technologies. Next, the paper will consider the crucial world-wide transmission of knowledge and ideas, emphasising a cross-border communication that was gradually developing over time. I will suggest that desires for political supremacy led to a scramble for more rapid agricultural-development. By establishing an understanding of differing historiographical approaches towards agrarian circulation, this project will finally investigate how the function of transnational space has progressed over time. This would be done by investigating globalisation and its effect on secondary literature regarding crop cultivation in India, or the consequence of climate change on cross-border circulation of crops in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Historical perspective on such topics tends to vary across borders, depicting discrepancies in the way scholars approach agricultural history today. This project will also analyse a darker aspect of British policy, particularly their agricultural reform which broke the back of the agrarian society of India. I will be using events such as the Bengal Famine of the 18th century to prove that Britain’s motivations were driven by self-interest. Events such as these would be placed into a transnational lens, as the project will investigate their global effects on the rest of the world.

There are numerous primary sources that prove invaluable to this project. Letters from Lord Grenville to King George III, along with court minutes written by the EIC provide evidence of Britain’s motivations behind introducing new crops and technologies to India. The writings of Arthur Young on agricultural development in Britain, particularly Political Arithmetic, is elemental in perceiving British attitudes towards technological advancements in India, and the circulation of agricultural knowledge that was transmitted from India to England, and vice versa. In regards to the EIC, there is an abundance of secondary literature that is also available. Roberto Davini’s “Bengali Raw Silk, the East India Company and the European Global Market” is insightful in its analysis regarding the transnationalism of technological advancement, through Davini’s thorough examination of the silk industry in India and the introduction of Piedmontese reeling technology. More niche books, such as “The Origin of “the Pusa Experiment”: The East India Company and Horse-Breeding in Bengal, 1793-1808”, introduced not simply a British development, but brought to India “the whole cultural and technological baggage of European civilisation as well [1].” More general readings on the Company, such as Tripta Desai’s “The East India Company From 1599-1857” are paramount for not only contextual knowledge, but also for a thorough comprehension of the relationship Britain held with foreign powers, thus assisting with the dispersion of knowledge that took place along with the trade of agricultural produce.

In addition to the written aspect, the project will include a mapping component to investigate transportation networks for crop and technological circulation from India and Britain, to demonstrate an increase in communicative technology during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. With this in mind, this project will ultimately aspire to take a unique, more modern stance towards agricultural circulation during the prime years of the EIC, in what hopes to suggest that transnational space was vital in the Indian agrarian industry.


[1] Renata Kerkhoff. Kathinka. Colonising Plants in Bihar (1760-1950). (India, 2014). pp. 104-105

Project Proposal | Transnational Space: Agrarian Development and Circulation in India (1757-1858)