18th Century Debates
Dark Age or a Period of Continuity and Change?
Types of Questions
1. 2003- Recent writing (revisionists) on the 18th century have considerably altered our understanding of the period. Elaborate. 2. 2005- In what ways have recent historical writings challenged the view that the 18th century was a “Dark age”? 3. 2010-Can the 18th century can be characterized as a “Dark Age”? Discuss with reference to some of the recent writings. INTRODUCTION:
The political, economic and social transitions witnessed in 18th century India have been subject to great historical debate. Most historians view this century as marked by two important transitions – (i) in the first half of the 18th century the decline of the Mughal empire and the rise of regional political orders and (ii) in the second half of the 18th century post the battle of Plassey (1757) and Buxar (1764) a transition in the society, economy and polity of India occurred, as the English East India Company began to assume political control in north India. The debate regarding the first half of the 18th century revolved around the reasons for decline of the Mughal Empire and the nature socio-economic change that followed. Two broad views can be outlined –(i) Dark Age view-the first and earliest view held that political collapse of the Mughal Empire in the early 18th century, initiated a process of economic and social decline across India, and thus the 18th century was a “Dark Age”. (ii)The second view held by Revisionists historians, viewed the period on its own terms, looked at political turmoil in terms of regional assertiveness, due to economic prosperity noted by them in the 18th century. Thus they studied the rise of regional polities and regional economic prosperity to challenge the “Dark Age” view and the causal links it draws between political and economic decline. The debate regarding the second half of the 18th century revolved around whether colonial rule had roots in pre-colonial economy and society as Revisionists argue or if it marked a politico-economic break with pre- colonial India as historians who propose the ‘Dark Age view’ argue. DEBATE I- VIEW I- DARK AGE VIEW
The earliest views on reasons for Mughal Decline and the “Dark age” character of the 18th century were presented by historians, Jadunath Sarkar, William Irvine, Ishwari Prasad and Sri Ram Sharma. They held individual character of rulers and their administrative and religious policies as responsible for Mughal decline. Thus, Jadunath Sarkar held Aurangzeb’s religious policy and Deccan Campaigns responsible for imperial decline. He said that peasant rebellions of the 17th century were a “Hindu reaction’’ to Aurangzeb’s Muslim orthodoxy, destroyed the Mughal polity and caused the subsequent decline of Mughal economy, institutions and society. Prasad and Sharma held that the 18th century was an economically crisis-prone period. From the 1950s, Marxist historians explained Mughal decline in materialist terms. Some arguments revolved around the institutions of jagir(a territory assigned to a noble by the Mughal emperor for a limited period of time, from which he could extract revenue as his salary in lieu for his service as a noble)and mansab(the administrative rank a noble held, which corresponded to his jagir). Thus Satish Chandra argued that structural flaws in the functioning of the Mughal institutions of jagir and mansab led to a fiscal crisis in the late 17th century. The efficiency of these institutions depended on availability, collection and distribution of revenue, when this began to falter from Aurangzeb’s time it led to and heralded imperial decline. M. Athar Ali holds that a shortage of jagirs caused by political expansion of the empire into less fertile tracts of the Deccan and also an increase in the number of nobles, without a proportionate increase in their jagirs led to administrative and economic decline. John. F....
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