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Book description

Kyle J. Gardner reveals the transformation of the historical Himalayan entrepôt of Ladakh into a modern, disputed borderland through an examination of rare British, Indian, Ladakhi, and Kashmiri archival sources. In so doing, he provides both a history of the rise of geopolitics and the first comprehensive history of Ladakh's encounter with the British Empire. He examines how colonial border-making practices transformed geography into a political science and established principles that a network of imperial frontier experts would apply throughout the empire and bequeath to an independent India. Through analyzing the complex of imperial policies and practices, The Frontier Complex reveals how the colonial state transformed, and was transformed by, new ways of conceiving of territory. Yet, despite a century of attempts to craft a suitable border, the British failed. The result is an imperial legacy still playing out across the Himalayas.


‘Kyle J. Gardner's pathbreaking The Frontier Complex is sure to become an essential resource on the India-China border. Deftly marshaling a vast range of archival materials across multiple languages, Gardner shows how colonial-era mapmaking practices created cartographic ambiguity that persists to this day. This is an important book on an increasingly urgent geopolitical dispute.'

Alyssa Ayres - Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations

‘Based on an imaginative and meticulous analysis of sources in Urdu, Ladakhi, Hindi, Tibetan, and English, Gardner's insightful and ironical narrative outlines how by converting an open frontier in the Himalayas into a loosely policed imperial border, the British left two of Asia's most powerful countries with an unenviable task: converting that border into a sacred boundary separating two nation-states. This is imperial-environmental history at its best.'

Dipesh Chakrabarty - University of Chicago

‘The Frontier Complex is the riveting story of colonial surveyors, administrators, explorers, and strategists' centuries-old efforts to pin Ladakh on the map – and their failure. Gardner reveals the ascent of geography as the frontier science by excellence, the Himalayas' role in the emergence of modern notions of territory, and how 'science-based' interventions can hold within them the very conditions for their failure.'

Bérénice Guyot-Réchard - King's College London

'… a meticulously researched book which deserves to be read closely.'

Myra Macdonald Source: War on the Rocks

‘Kyle Gardner has given us what is easily the best and most variegated account of the British discovery of Ladakh and their failed attempt to impose imperial ‘scientific’ or ‘natural’ frontiers on it.’

Shivshankar Menon Source: The Wire

This Frontier Complex, and the questions it raises, all stemming from recent history, both colonial and modern, makes Gardner’s well-researched and in-depth study of the subject, a first of its kind in decades, deserving our serious attention, especially as tensions mount between India and China across this forbidding and desolate landscape.'

Nirupama Rao Source: China Report

'The Frontier Complex is an engaging account of the confluence of geographical knowledge, definitions of territory, and ideas of security in the creation and maintenance of imperial borders in the nineteenth century, which have had profound implications for the relationships among states into the twenty-first century. It is thus a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the antecedents of these relationships and what continues to drive them at the contemporary moment.'

Chitralekha Zutshi Source: Agricultural History

'A key strength of The Frontier Complex is its advancement beyond top-down narratives of border-making to continually examine groundlevel interactions with colonial visions of space …The story Gardner constructs is an explicitly global one.'

Benjamin Holt Source: Journal of World History

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