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  • Cited by 4
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
June 2023
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Book description

The East India Company is remembered as the world's most powerful, not to say notorious, corporation. But for many of its advocates from the 1770s to the 1850s it was also the world's most enlightened one. Joshua Ehrlich reveals that a commitment to knowledge was integral to the Company's ideology. He shows how the Company cited this commitment in defense of its increasingly fraught union of commercial and political power. He moves beyond studies of orientalism, colonial knowledge, and information with a new approach: the history of ideas of knowledge. He recovers a world of debate among the Company's officials and interlocutors, Indian and European, on the political uses of knowledge. Not only were these historical actors highly articulate on the subject but their ideas continue to resonate in the present. Knowledge was a fixture in the politics of the Company – just as it seems to be becoming a fixture in today's politics.


Short-listed, 2024 The British in India Book Prize, The British in India Historical Trust


‘This is an important book. Compellingly written, it offers valuable insights into the connections between politics, knowledge, and corporate interests - connections that sit at the core of pressing contemporary debates.’

Kapil Raj - École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales

‘For its fresh approach, blending the histories of knowledge and political thought; for its persuasive argument, based on deep research in Persian and European-language sources; and for its lucid and elegant style, Ehrlich’s wonderful book will be required reading for historians of the East India Company, South Asia, and the British Empire.’

Rosane Rocher - University of Pennsylvania

‘In a work as ambitious as it is meticulous, Joshua Ehrlich reveals the British conquest of India to have been the work not only of the ‘merchant’ and the ‘sovereign’ but also of the scholar - as much the product of advancing armies and revenue officials as of the translators, historians, surveyors, libraries, learned societies, colleges, gardens, and many more that made the case for how and why to rule that expanding empire. This book offers a compelling account of how debates over scholarship and education shaped the East India Company state, as well as a thought-provoking reflection on the ways in which the power to create and command knowledge has been central to ideologies of global corporate power, from the eighteenth century to today’s ‘information economy.’’

Philip J. Stern - Duke University

‘… [A] powerful and persuasive argument…. [I]mportant and refreshingly innovative…. [A] thoughtful and considered contribution, founded on wide-ranging research into a wealth of archival material and combined with skilful and imaginative analysis…. [P]acks … [a] powerful contemporary punch…. Rarely do historians succeed in arguing so successfully for the relevance of their work in the maelstrom of the present day ….’

John McAleer Source: H-Soz-Kult

‘The transition of the East India Company from mercantile organization to full-blown colonial power has been the subject of much scholarly discourse, but as Ehrlich (Univ. of Macau) shows, there are still novel ways to approach the topic … This intellectual history elucidates not just the ideology of imperialism but corporate culture as a whole … Recommended.’

M. Chaiklin Source: Choice

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