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The Frontier in British India
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  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Expected online publication date: January 2021
  • Print publication year: 2021
  • Online ISBN: 9781108879156
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Book description

Thomas Simpson provides an innovative account of how distinctive forms of colonial power and knowledge developed at the territorial fringes of colonial India during the nineteenth century. Through critical interventions in a wide range of theoretical and historiographical fields, he speaks to historians of empire and science, anthropologists, and geographers alike. The Frontier in British India provides the first connected and comparative analysis of frontiers in northwest and northeast India and draws on visual and written materials from an array of archives across the subcontinent and the UK. Colonial interventions in frontier spaces and populations were, it shows, enormously destructive but also prone to confusion and failure on their own terms. British frontier administrators did not merely suffer 'turbulent' frontiers, but actively worked to generate and uphold these regions as spaces of governmental and scientific exception. Accordingly, India's frontiers became crucial spaces of imperial practice and imagination throughout the nineteenth century.


‘The Frontier in British India is an engaging, insightful and lucid exploration of British India's Northwest and Northeast frontier regions.  Drawing on a remarkable range of sources, Thomas Simpson illuminates the inconsistencies, anxieties and internal debates that characterised British colonial approaches to the frontiers of India. Going beyond conventional approaches that have emphasised the progressive systematisation of colonial attempts to govern, classify and subdue frontier territories, Simpson emphasises the significance of ‘the man on the spot', the forms of personal power, authority and violence such characters exercised, and the debates they stimulated in imperial metropoles.'

Magnus Marsden - University of Sussex

‘Maintenance of frontiers has long been decisive in national and imperial histories. This cleverly-argued and brilliantly-illustrated study challenges such assumptions. In fascinating cases of conflict and encounter, this book demonstrates that in the highland borderlands of nineteenth-century south Asia absence of control and fluidity of command generated opportunities for trade, improvisation and negotiation. This timely history of British India's borderlands will help change images of empire and colony, and of indigenous agency and culture.'

Simon Schaffer - University of Cambridge


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