Aryans and British India
By Thomas R. Trautmann
Published by University of California Press - 1997
"Aryan," a word that today evokes images of racial hatred and atrocity, was first used by Europeans to suggest bonds of kinship, as Thomas Trautmann shows in his far-reaching history of British Orientalism and the ethnology of India. When the historical relationship uniting Sanskrit with the languages of Europe was discovered, it seemed clear that Indians and Britons belonged to the same family. Thus the Indo-European or Aryan idea, based on the principle of linguistic kinship, dominated British ethnological inquiry.In the nineteenth century, however, an emergent biological "race science" attacked the authority of the Orientalists. The spectacle of a dark-skinned people who were evidently civilized challenged Victorian ideas, and race science responded to the enigma of India by redefining the Aryan concept in narrowly "white" racial terms. By the end of the nineteenth century, race science and Orientalism reached a deep and lasting consensus in regard to India, which Trautmann calls "the racial theory of Indian civilization," and which he undermines with his powerful analysis of colonial ethnology in India. His work of reassessing British Orientalism and the Aryan idea will be of great interest to historians, anthropologists, and cultural critics.
In this landmark study, Thomas Trautmann delves into the intellectual accomplishments of the languages and nations concept in British India, as well as the darker politics of race hatred which emerged out of it. He challenges the racial hypothesis through a powerful analysis of the feeble evidence upon which it is based. Issued for the first time in paperback format, this edition includes a new Preface in which the author discusses further ideas on the understanding of the Aryan theory and the languages and nations project, as well as the new scholarship supporting such ideas. The new preface also discusses the Aryan debate in contemporary India, which looks for a link between Aryans, Sanskrit, the Veda and the Indus Valley Civilization, and which has in recent times broadened into a tremendously politicized controversy. A compelling and carefully researched work, Aryans and British India has become mandatory reading, since its first publication in 1997, for historians, political scientists and commentators, anthropologists, and linguists, as well as scholars and students of cultural studies.
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