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Petitioning and Political Culture in Late Company Madras, 1830-1860



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This dissertation studies the development of reformist political culture in South India during the last decades of East India Company rule in the mid-nineteenth century. Through an analysis of a wide-ranging body of South Indian sources, including mass petitions (some signed by as many as 70,000 individuals), pamphlets, speeches, polemical writings, and the transactions of public meetings, it reveals a vigorous political culture existed in the understudied presidency of Madras. Incorporating archival material from British and Indian archives, this dissertation dissects the life-cycles, that is the origins and short and long-term effects, of mid-century colonial mass petitions. It does so by analysing the correspondence and deliberations that preceded a petition’s release, the processes by which it was circulated for signature, and the consequent resolutions and debates that followed its reception by colonial authorities. I argue that the petition, in its most public and political iteration, was seized by reformers who anticipated, and sought to direct, the dramatic structural changes that transformed the embattled Company before its demise in 1858.

This dissertation applies a close reading of six petitionary campaigns that demanded, in turn, education reform, religious protections, political representation, the restoration of annexed Rajas, the reconstitution of the presidency system, and, perhaps most dramatically, the abolition of the Company itself. Instead of identifying these campaigns as precursors to the nationalist politics of the late nineteenth century, I argue that they marked a distinct phase of colonial politics that sought to mould the colonial state and its policies. By approaching the history of anti-Company politics from the contexts of southern India and Britain, this dissertation proposes a multi-sited account of the transition to Crown rule that reincorporates the Madras presidency as a venue of radical political innovation.





Sivasundaram, Sujit


Britain, Colonial History, East India Company, Imperial History, Indian History, Madras, Petitions, Political Culture, South India


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Cambridge Trust Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada