C.A. Bayly

C.A. Bayly is the author of The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914: Global Connections and Comparisons. His new book, on the liberal tradition in Indian thought, will be published in November.

It takes a village: Henry Maine

C.A. Bayly, 14 July 2011

If, around 1880, an educated person in Britain had been asked to list the most important intellectuals of the previous generation, he or she might well have mentioned, alongside Darwin and John Stuart Mill, the name of Sir Henry Maine, the subject of Karuna Mantena’s valuable new study. His name isn’t heard much anymore, but in his own day Maine (1822-88) was regarded as a...

Empire of the Doctors

C.A. Bayly, 8 December 1994

On the outskirts of most Indian cities you still encounter the war graves of imperialism: the melancholy, unvisited Christian cemeteries which contain the serried ranks of monuments commemorating British subjects and their children buried there during the days of the Raj. Perhaps it is not surprising, or particularly shocking, that it was fear for European rather than Indian lives which drove the growth of tropical medicine in India. Mortality among British troops and civil servants remained appallingly high well into the later 19th century. Nor is it surprising that for the European mind, India was the seat of global infection. After 1818, cholera, the terrible ‘westering’ disease, moved out of its endemic haunts in Bengal and north India in the wake of British armies of conquest. Striking overland and along the sea lanes, it became the chief public health problem for 19th-century European governments and a potent source of popular fear and potential disorder. It seemed as if the horrid filth and turbulence of the Orient had infected the seamy underworld of the European city. In the 1890s, bubonic plague appeared in Bombay and threatened to slip into the commercial arteries of the world’s greatest trading nation, arousing archaic panics about Black Death wherever it appeared. This theme of fetid disease and corruption stealing in from the East often surfaced in 19th-century literature – Dr Watson, an Indian Army doctor, first met Sherlock Holmes while he was convalescing from Indian enteric fever, which had caused his ‘life to be despaired of’. In our century, only anxiety about Aids and social disintegration in Africa has brought a comparable merging of physical and political terror with fear of the Other.’

Bloody Glamour: Giuseppe Mazzini

Tim Parks, 30 April 2009

On 22 February 1854, James Buchanan, then the American ambassador in London but soon to be president of the US, celebrated George Washington’s birthday with a dinner to which Giuseppe...

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Gosh, how civilised it was. ‘At last, without convulsion, without tremor and without agony, the great ship goes down.’ The ‘great ship’ was the British Empire; the words...

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Globalisation presents formidable challenges for history, a discipline which is congenitally nationalist. The academic study of the past emerged during the 19th century in tandem with the rise of...

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Strong Government

Linda Colley, 7 December 1989

Anyone seeking to make sense of British history from the last quarter of the 17th century to the first quarter of the 19th must confront two closely-related questions. How did this small island,...

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