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  • Distorted Development:The Ottoman Empire and British India, circa 1780-1916
  • C. A. Bayly (bio)

As far as I know, this is the first publication that has ever dedicated a discussion to analyzing the comparisons, contrasts, and connections between the nineteenth-century British Indian Empire and the later Ottoman Empire. In this essay, I address the reasons for this gap in the historiography and the materials that already exist with which to begin to fill it. I then propose a tentative chronology for dealing with the convergences and contrasts between these two evolving polities in the age of imperialism.

The historiographical landscape is not completely empty, of course. In Indian Ocean studies, Jean Aubin, Michael Pearson, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, and Sugata Bose have sketched interregional commercial and ideological links between the ocean's littoral polities and commercial communities, some of which persisted into the twentieth century. Material generated by recent comparisons among the Mogul, Safavid, and early modern Ottoman regimes also holds some methodological significance for this exercise. Over the decades, the emphasis here has shifted from comparing similarities among the historical legacies of the "three empires," as in the work of Marshall Hodgson, to stressing difference. Recent studies have powerfully delineated these differences. For example, the central Ottoman lands within two hundred miles of Istanbul had long been more closely governed than even the Mogul Khalisa territories near Delhi and Agra. Autochthonous nobility was much less significant in the Ottoman Empire than in the Mogul. The military structure of the two empires bore only superficial and technical similarities after the decline of the mansabdar and timariot elites, respectively. The Mediterranean thrust of the Ottomans, with their large and relatively modern fleet, contrasted with the insignificance of Mogul naval power. Even in the late eighteenth century, the Maratha fleets and Bombay marine were small compared with Ottoman fleets. In some cases, such as the relatively greater importance of local nobility in India, these sharp differences persisted into the nineteenth century.

For the nineteenth century, when Western forms of government became influential, historians have discussed some more substantial points of comparison and connection between British India and the southern Ottoman provinces. Egypt remained part of the Ottoman Empire psychologically and constitutionally until 1914. But it was also heavily marked by South Asian colonial experience as a result of the British occupation of 1882. Roger Owen and Robert Tignor drew attention to the continuities between British Indian bureaucratic personnel and mentalities and those of British-occupied Egypt.1 Roger Owen's major new [End Page 332] biography of Evelyn Baring, Lord Cromer, will again stress the Anglo-Indian origins of the British government in Egypt, especially in the financial sphere.2 I myself recently published an essay, in a book jointly edited with Leila Fawaz, comparing the literary and political "representations" of Egyptian Copts and Indian Muslims as colonial minorities in the 1900s.3

These interregional analogies have probably been useful. But they have also implicitly highlighted once again the differences between post-Tanzimat Ottoman and British Indian governance. In occupied Egypt, for instance, powerful, centralized ministries directly controlled district officials. In India, especially in the paradigmatic Punjab, a more localized and paternalistic form of government prevailed. Much of the administrative and political history of Egypt between 1882 and 1914 could probably be reinterpreted as a collision and adjustment between the Tanzimat and Punjab systems of rule.

One other Ottoman region has thrown up a similar comparative historiography. Several works have considered the emergence of a British "informal empire" from the 1880s to the 1930s in what became Iraq. They have begun to delineate the strong connections between Bombay and Basra through the careers of Baghdadi Jewish and Muslim trading families in both regions. Here again, the Punjab looms large. Between 1913 and 1919, the British Indian army officer Arnold Wilson consciously pursued a policy of turning Mesopotamia into a second Jullunder Doab, as I briefly describe later in this essay. Finally, the central importance of the Khilafat for the later history of British India and the Ottoman Empire has been a focus of writing and research since Thomas Walker Arnold wrote on the subject in 1924.4 Modern historians from John Darwin...


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