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Secret Signals in Lotus Flowers

Maya Jasanoff: Myths of the Mutiny

21 July 2005
The Indian Mutiny and the British Imagination 
by Gautam Chakravarty.
Cambridge, 242 pp., £45, January 2005, 0 521 83274 8
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... Tucked away in the lanes of Old Delhi, not far from the Red Fort of the Mughal emperors, sits the little visited Anglican church of St James, consecrated in 1836. With its Renaissance-style dome and campanile, and painted a cheerful lemon, this church would not look out of place in Italy. In Delhi it is an oddity, as was its founder, the swashbuckling military adventurer James Skinner, who built it ...

Let in the Djinns

Maya Jasanoff: Richard Burton

9 March 2006
The Highly Civilised Man: Richard Burton and the Victorian World 
by Dane Kennedy.
Harvard, 354 pp., £17.95, September 2005, 0 674 01862 1
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... Trieste, it has been said, is a nowhere of sorts: unreal, isolated, out of time, attractive to exiles, unknown to almost everybody else. So it was an apt city to serve as the final home of a man regarded as one of the most unreal, isolated and timeless figures of the Victorian era. Richard Burton arrived in the Adriatic port in 1873 as Britain’s consul. He had pretty much seen everything. He had ...

Before and After Said

Maya Jasanoff: A Reappraisal of Orientalism

8 June 2006
For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and their Enemies 
by Robert Irwin.
Allen Lane, 416 pp., £25, January 2006, 0 7139 9415 0
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... Winding south-east from Ouarzazate through the Drâa Valley in Morocco, the road peters out after Zagora. Beyond, lie the swelling dunes of the Great Eastern Erg, the Algerian frontier, open Sahara. Camels are your best bet from here, as Zagora’s chief attraction colourfully advertises: a painted sign pointing the way to Timbuktu, 52 days away by camel caravan. Traditionally, this end of the road ...

One Enduring Trace of Our Presence

Maya Jasanoff: Governing Iraq

5 April 2007
Occupational Hazards: My Time Governing in Iraq 
by Rory Stewart.
Picador, 422 pp., £17.99, June 2006, 0 330 44049 7
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... Not long ago I attended a lunch at which the guests were invited to discuss the Iraq debacle. It was deep in red-state America, but everybody present was an academic, and expressed due sentiments of horror and outrage. Most were also historians of empire, and started casting about for parallels. Is Iraq like Suez, some wondered? Or Cyprus, perhaps? Or is it most like India, where the British scampered ...

So Much for Staying Single

Maya Jasanoff: 18th-Century Calcutta

20 March 2008
Hartly House, Calcutta 
by Phebe Gibbes.
Oxford, 222 pp., £13.99, April 2007, 978 0 19 568564 0
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... On a February morning in 1788, dozens of spectators filed into the gallery of Westminster Hall. Among them appeared the cream of London society, headed by Queen Charlotte herself, elegant in fawn-coloured satin and a modest splash of diamonds, and flanked by three of her daughters. With three hundred guards keeping the passages clear, the peers of the realm marched in according to rank. The Prince ...

Diary

Maya Jasanoff: In Sierra Leone

11 September 2008
... The helicopter service to Freetown from the airport at Lungi was suspended; it had crashed one too many times. That meant I would have to take the ferry, across the neck of one of the world’s largest natural harbours. After a jolting truck ride, I found myself at the edge of a concrete pier, watching the sun-set through the haze, waiting for the boat. Fishermen poled their pirogues onto the brown ...

Inky Scraps

Maya Jasanoff: ‘Atlantic Families’

5 August 2010
Atlantic Families: Lives and Letters in the Later 18th Century 
by Sarah Pearsall.
Oxford, 294 pp., £61, November 2008, 978 0 19 953299 5
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... Crisses Cryssis Crises Crisis’, Grace Galloway scratched at the bottom of the page. She might not have known how to spell it, but she certainly knew what crisis felt like when she wrote about it in wartime Philadelphia in the fall of 1781. Grace’s husband, Joseph, a prominent Pennsylvania politician, had been a delegate to the first Continental Congress, convened in 1774 to find a resolution ...

C is for Colonies

Anthony Pagden: A New History of Empire

11 May 2006
Edge of Empire: Conquest and Collecting in the East 1750-1850 
by Maya Jasanoff.
Fourth Estate, 405 pp., £25, August 2005, 0 00 718009 8
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... that all empires were precarious, porous, multicultural and multilingual, and that of all the political orders ever devised they, more than any other, defy simple description or heavy abstraction. MayaJasanoff’s book – her first – is a brilliant contribution to this literature. Her theme is not how ‘Others’ were excluded by the imperial process, but the far more elusive, and in the end ...

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