"After Annexation: Colonialism and Sindh During the 1840s" by Matthew A. Cook
Matthew A. Cook
This dissertation addresses the expansion and consolidation of British territorial and political power in South Asia. It combines anthropology with history and employs a fine-grained, nuanced and situated reading of multiple agents and their actions. It explores how the political and administrative incorporation of territory (i.e., annexation) informs the conversion of intra-cultural distinctions into socio-historical conflicts. This project focuses on "direct," rather than indirect, forms of colonial rule in South Asia. It explores how agents, perspectives and intentions vary—both within and across regions—to impact the actions and structures of colonial governance.
The dissertation maintains that annexations are not colonial relics and that contemporary world tensions often have past connections to annexations. To illuminate the historical character of one such annexation and to better understand its socio-cultural consequences, this project analyzes the 1843 British annexation of the South Asian region of Sindh. Most studies of Sindh conclude historical analysis at the advent of annexation. Instead, I take annexation as the starting point of my analysis. Analyses of annexations also usually assume an isomorphism between what occurs in a specific place and its socio-historical analysis. I take a more revealing multi-sited approach that analyzes annexation through locations that are physically "dis-contiguous" (e.g., Sindh, Bombay, Calcutta, and London), but contextually interconnected.
My analysis of Sindh's annexation recognizes South Asia as part of an integrated imperial system that not only circulates commodities and capital, but people, politics and cultural ideas. It cuts across boundaries to forge new historical linkages while remaining committed to close-grained analyses of "local" distinctions in multiple locations. It aims to illustrate how muddying one's boots in the socio-cultural (rather than just political-economic) bogs of multi-site analysis can generate interconnected forms of history. By weakening the bond between the location of an annexation and its cultural and historical analysis, my project dislodges contextually relevant historicities and social debates from conventionally ignored locations. In the process, it aims to bring the historical anthropology of colonialism more in-line with contemporary social science approaches that abstain from a false choice between local and global forms of analysis.