Friday, 27 January 2017

Democracy and Despotism in British India (Thursday 23 February) and dates for your diary

I am writing this on the day after Professor Roey Sweet's excellent lecture on The Ladies' Grand Tour and the day before I leave for my first ever visit to India.

Indian civilisation dates back 4000 years and more to the Harappan settlements along the River Indus. In the following millennia various waves of invaders and settlers occupied and changed the subcontinent. In the north, where I will be going, Rajput clans rose to prominence from the late seventh century AD. Muslim invaders established a series of dynasties from the early thirteenth century. In 1526 the victory in battle of Babur marked the beginning of the great Mughal era, a time of prosperity and cultural excellence.

My visit will take me to the 'pink city' of Jaipur and to Agra, where the outstanding symbol of Mughal culture is Shah Jahan's exquisite Taj Mahal. In Delhi, where my visit begins, the centuries and cultures should converge, with New Delhi, built by the British between 1911 and 1931, representing the period between the decline of the Mughals and the bloody birth of independent India in 1947. The last few days of my visit will be spent in Shimla, the summer capital of the British Raj from 1863 to 1947, in the lower ranges of the Himalayas.

Fortuitously, since our planning isn't that good, the British Raj is the subject of our lecture 13 days after my return. The title is Democracy and Despotism in British India. Did the long period of British domination in India bring benefits, either transient or lasting, to the Indian people? Do we underestimate or overestimate their exploitation by their British masters? Historians are bound to want to debate such issues.

To guide us through the thicket on this occasion we are pleased to welcome Dr Sean Lang, Senior Lecturer in History at Anglia Ruskin University, a specialist in the history of the British Empire.

Dates for your diary in May, June and December

We have organised two visits during the summer break in our programme of lectures: on Friday 19 May to Great Chalfield Manor near Bradford-on-Avon and on Thursday 15 June to Owlpen Manor near Dursley. Each is a private visit - Owlpen Manor is not open to the general public - and will be guided by members of the families who live there. Each will include tours of the house and garden and will end with afternoon tea. Full details and application forms will be circulated to members and available at lectures from March.

Our members' Christmas visit and buffet will be held at the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, on the evening of Thursday 14 December. The details and application forms for this will be send to members during August.

Mike Short 

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