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A History of British India

By: The Great Courses, Hayden J. Bellenoit
Narrated by: Hayden J. Bellenoit
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Publisher's Summary

No era is more pertinent to understanding how present-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh evolved than the nearly 200 years of British rule. This colonial period was a time of deep change and transformation - for India and for the world. These 24 engrossing lectures offer you new perspectives on the history of European imperialism, on world economic history, on the features of British colonialism, and on the rich cultures of the Indian subcontinent.

Over the course of this remarkable saga you'll explore:

  • How the English East India Company, a commercial trading entity, established a presence in India and took the reins of power in one of the strangest political transformations in world history
  • How the monumental Mughal Empire, builders of the Taj Mahal and longstanding Muslim rulers in India, gradually came apart in the face of British conquest
  • How Britain extended its rule across the subcontinent, built a huge economic machine in India, and ultimately exacted a heavy price from the Indian people
  • How India finally achieved independence in 1947, through one of humanity's most noteworthy examples of resourceful and philosophically sophisticated leadership

You'll trace the economic motives that brought the British and other Westerners to India, like how the emergence of the English as a stereotypically tea-drinking society was directly related to the Indian colonial economy. You will also take stock of the incredibly lavish lifestyles of India's maharajahs and how the British leveraged alliances with them. And you'll grasp the fundamental moral contradiction of the Raj, the conflict between Britain's economic interests and the human needs of the empire's Indian subjects, and more. In A History of British India, you'll relive a crucial era in international relations, one with deep and lasting implications for our contemporary world.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2017 The Great Courses (P)2017 The Teaching Company, LLC

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Great Course, don't listen to reactionaries

Firstly, it bears mentioning that some of the criticism of this course is wildly off-base. As someone studying this period from the perspective of the development of Indian nationalism, much of the contemporary scholarship seems broadly consonant with what Prof Bellenoit presents here. If you are after empire-apologia or a dated, military history of 'great men' (a mode which the 'Great Courses' too often favours) which just focuses on who chopped off whose head on certain dates then yes, you will be disappointed.

Delivery-wise I think the professor has a very smooth delivery, despite some quirks that grate a little - namely, the incessant use of rhetorical questions.

Content-wise, this lecture series packs a lot within a relatively short space of time. With the caveat that I am only 2/3rds of the way through, I think the author does an admirable job in this respect. The narrative tends to emphasise the importance of ideas in shaping the course and contours of the British Raj. I particularly enjoyed the focus on how the British drew on certain contemporary epistemic tools and sociological categories of understanding to make sense of Indian society. This is crucial because these ways of supposedly neutrally 'describing' Indian society would have a large impact in constituting it and changing it, for example by making religious divisions more pronounced.

For my part, I would recommend more emphasis on Indians and Indian agency in the first half of the course. I know the British were running the show, so to speak, but they had collaborators and needed the consent and cooperation of those they governed. The latter are part of this story, too.

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Good book but so biased it is ridiculous

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

The issue was the massive bias that the author clearly has. I'm neutral in this and certainly don't believe that the British were justified in what they did. They took over another country and sought to make as much money as possible. However, the author can't see anything good in anything the British did. For example:
* Increased education only lead to alienate the Muslims.
* Building railways was terrible as it didn't use local materials.
* Codifying and clarifying laws only served to remove local practises and traditions.
* Trying to remove traditions such as child marriage and Sati were unwise, basically just because it was change.
* Providing cheap clothing was not good as it reduced the demand for craftsmen's work

I agree that there were bad results for some people from the above items but it would be hard not to see the benefits as well. In particular the removal of work from craftsmen was happening all over the world after the industrial revolution so I don't see how it was the evil British that were at fault.

Essentially the author keeps saying "things changed, therefore it was bad".

Has A History of British India put you off other books in this genre?

No, I'd actually like to read others to get a better idea of what actually happened.

What three words best describe Professor Hayden J. Bellenoit’s performance?

Three items are:
1. Can't pronounce the word "Britain". Kind of important for this book. Ends up pronouncing it "Bri-en".
2. Way overuses rhetorical questions, specifically the words "well, think about it".
3. Has a nice sounding voice and speaks well.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from A History of British India?

I would have cut some repetition and the constant rhetorical questions.

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Biased and tedious

Bellenoit’s history of India is relentlessly biased it’s painful - everything the ppl of the subcontinent do is either remarkable or excused away (up to and including the violence of the Partition), everything the British do is covered in scorn - they have no redeeming values. Even worse is his tendency to pose a question, praise himself ‘what a great question’ or ‘you got it’, and expand on the answer. A modern, self-righteous orientalist with a tedious lecture style.

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