- India and Europe in the Global Eighteenth Century ed. by Simon Davies, Daniel Sanjiv Roberts, and Gabriel Sánchez Espinosa
This collection of essays, derived in part from a symposium held at Queen’s University Belfast in 2011, focuses on different European encounters with the Indian subcontinent [End Page 395] over the course of the long eighteenth century. Included are chapters attesting to an impressive range of British, French, Irish, Spanish, and Danish experiences of, and writings about, India that draw from multiple primary sources, from historical and political works to literary and poetic texts. Taking as its starting point Edward Said’s ‘insistence on a pan-European investment in the project of orientalism’ (p. 3), the volume sets out to deepen our understanding about ‘the breadth of European experience in the East’ (ibid.). It does this by presenting a variety of case studies that attest less to the creation of a monolithic pan-European discourse about the East than to the polyphony of ideas which fed the European imagination during the period that preceded the more dominant narrative of nineteenth-century British-Indian colonialism. In this way, the volume works to nuance, rather than challenge, Said’s argument by showing the extent to which the construction of India was ‘riven by criticisms, contradictions and contestations from within and without’ (p. 5). Each of the chapters develops this opening position by exploring specific cases of intra-European and East–West exchange. There are studies into the dialogical process involved in translating, for example, Persian texts into English to co-produce knowledge for the West, as well as the intertextual borrowings that occurred between British and French Indologists, which collectively map out the limits of Europe’s vision of the East. The volume also considers the use of India as a fictional space in which to explore particular nation-centred preoccupations and colonizing desires, as well as the links between India and other colonized nations, such as post-Union Ireland. In addition to chapters focusing on the construction of orientalist knowledge, and the influence of Indian belief systems on the European canon, are others dedicated to examining specific geographical locations in India, where competing colonial powers negotiate their trading terms according to local customs and beliefs against the backdrop of a constantly changing political and commercial context. Taken as a whole, this is an ambitious project that is limited perhaps only in terms of its (lack of) engagement with postcolonial theorization. An acknowledgement of more recent work into competing European colonial discourses of India, such as the two monographs by Kate Marsh (Fictions of 1947: Representations of Indian Decolonization 1919–1962 (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2007); India in the French Imagination: Peripheral Voices, 1754–1815 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2009)), might have served to strengthen the theoretical framework for the volume as a whole. Despite this, the book offers an interesting insight into the ad hoc nature of empire-building and the polyvalent nature of orientalist production that invites further reflection into the complexity of European colonial history.