1st Edition

The Formation of the Colonial State in India Scribes, Paper and Taxes, 1760-1860

By Hayden J. Bellenoit Copyright 2017
    230 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    230 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    In the period between the 1770s and 1840s, through the process of colonial state formation, the early colonial state in India was able to harness and extract vast amounts of agrarian wealth in north India. However, little is known of the histories of the Indian scribes and the role they played in shaping the early patterns of British colonial rule.

    This book offers a new way of interpreting the colonial state’s origins in north India. It examines how the formation of early agrarian revenue settlements exacerbated an extant late Mughal taxation tradition, and how the success of British power was shaped by this extant paper-oriented revenue culture. It goes on to examine how the service and cultural histories of various Hindu scribal communities fit within broader changes in political administration, taxation, patterns of governance and a shared Indo-Islamic administrative culture. The author argues that British power after the late eighteenth century came as much through bureaucratic mastery, paper and taxes as it did through military force and commercial ruthlessness. The book draws upon private family papers, interviews and Persian sources to demonstrate how the fortunes of scribes changed between empires, and the important role they played at the height of the British Raj by 1900.

    Offering a detailed account of how agrarian wealth provided the bedrock of the colonial state’s later patterns of administration, this book is a unique and refreshing contribution to studies in South Asian History, Governance and Imperialism.


    1. Revenue administration and scribal skills in late Mughal India, c.1650-1750
    2. The scribal families of Hindustan
    3. Revenue and state-formation in the Doab, c.1780-1840
    4. ‘Accounting for every grain’: the origins of the colonial archive in north India
    5. Kayasthas, ‘caste’ and administration under the Raj, c.1860-1900



    Hayden J. Bellenoit is Associate Professor of History at the US Naval Academy, USA. He is the author of Missionary Education and Empire in late Colonial India, 1860-1920 (2007) and has published in journals such as Modern Asian Studies and South Asian History and Culture. He holds a DPhil in modern history from Oxford University, UK.