When he appeared before the British House of Commons in the wake of the Stamp Act crisis, Benjamin Franklin reminded his audience that the American colonies were governed ‘at the expense only of a little pen, ink, and paper; they were led by a thread’. As the British sought to come to grips with an expanded American empire in territories ceded by France at the end of the Seven Years War, they were also confronted with an even larger and more complex imperial domain in Asia, one that was fashioned out of a centralised pattern of Mughal rule.
In The Formation of the Colonial State in India: Scribes, Paper and Taxes, 1760-1860 (Routledge, 2017), Hayden Bellenoit digs beneath imperial formation on a macro level and looks at the fiscal management of empire. He shows that it rested on a ‘paper foundation’: the British colonial state in India was defined as much by bureaucratic processes as it was by military power, ruled not by soldiers but by scribes. Not only does he shed new light on the foundation of British power in Asia, but the book opens up striking comparisons with the relatively weak imperial state in North America, and also reveals the origins of the bureaucratic colonial state that emerged in sub-Saharan Africa.
Hayden Bellenoit is Associate Professor of History at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Charles Prior is Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Hull (UK), who has written on the politics of religion in early modern Britain, and whose work has recently expanded to the intersection of colonial, indigenous, and imperial politics in early America.