- Knowledge, mediation and empire: James Tod's journeys among the Rajputsby Florence D'Souza
Knowledge, mediation and empire: James Tod's journeys among the Rajputsfocuses on the published writing of James Tod (1782–1835), East India Company officer and political agent [End Page 340]to the Western Rajput states from 1818 until 1823. Tod belonged to a group of East India Company men, including John Malcolm, Mountstuart Elphinstone, and Thomas Munro, who served the imperial administration during a moment of transformation. It was their responsibility to fight and negotiate with Indian rulers as part of the expansion of East India Company rule. Serving during a period in which changing attitudes to India accompanied imperial reforms, these soldier-administrators bore the brunt of difficulties of navigating a rapidly changing political terrain in both India and Britain. Creating knowledge about the Indian landscape, its people, religion, languages, and its political structures of rule was a fundamental part of their role as imperial administrators. Florence D'Souza's book contributes to a long historiographical debate about the extent to which Oriental scholarship served and affected imperial power in India. Arguing against the idea that European knowledge-formation about India was necessarily imperialist, D'Souza represents Tod as an intermediary struggling to mediate between the British-imperial power and the sovereignty of the culturally rich and politically distinct Rajputs.
Although born and educated in London, Tod's family hailed from Scotland and he was—like many of his contemporaries—embedded in imperial networks that spanned North America and India. His paternal family secured him a cadetship in the East India Company Army in 1799, and he began his career in the midst of conflict between Maratha, English, and French armies across the Indian subcontinent. Throughout his military and political career in India, Tod surveyed and collected information about the country and its people. Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan(1829), for which Tod is best known, as well as Travels in Western India(1839), numerous essays, books, and coins presented to the Asiatic Society are the culmination of that career. D'Souza's book focuses primarily on Tod's published work but also examines his letters to Company officials and, most notably, the Rana Bheem Singh of Mewar, which the author has translated from Hindustani, Urdu, and Marwari.
The first three chapters place Tod's Annals and Antiqutiesin the context of other British-imperial representations of India in travel writing, landscape painting, and Enlightenment anthropology. D'Souza begins by tracing Tod's aesthetic appreciation of the Indian landscape to the Romantic movement and notes the influence of Scottish terms of reference, such as crag and glen in his descriptions of the topography. As other historians have previously shown, Tod drew on the English historian, Henry Hallam, as well as David Hume, to represent the Rajputs as a proud, feudal nation. In many ways, Tod followed a familiar Enlightenment template of knowledge creation, studying the botany and topography of Rajasthan and the religion and mythology of the Rajputs. His discussion of satiand the position of women in Rajput society referenced and built on an Enlightenment debate about the division of the sexes at different stages in the development of society. The parallels Tod makes between the Rajput battles and the great battles of Antiquity, as well as his overt claims to throw "light upon a people scarcely yet known in Europe," all illustrate that Annals and Antiquitieswas aimed at a European audience (qtd. 49). Yet, D'Souza argues, Annals and Antiquitieswas not, as other historians have argued, complicit in British imperial power. Tod's positive portrayal of Rajput history, mythology, and culture was based on a sustained interaction with the Rajputs and offers a stark contrast to the pejorative characterization of Indian peoples in James Mill's History of British India(1817). Tod's Romanticism and his close interactions with elite, [End Page 341]ruling Rajputs meant that he understood and represented them as a dignified people whose...