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Author Replies # Posted on February 4, 2014 at 13:51

Current Debates
Seminar 1: Gunnel Cederlöf
Reflection Seminar 1

One of the ideas that I found interesting about the approach in the book is the concept of thinking about history not backwards, but forwards. Nowadays we try to use history to learn from previous mistakes. With this in mind to regard of the book, I was wondering if there was any evidence to be found where EIC explains or expands on their decisions at the time where they take earlier colonial conquest, successful of failed, as an example. The book sets from the end of the 18th century to halfway through the 19th century. About a century earlier the Dutch EIC experiences for example a really profitable period of trade, which then is followed by a great downfall of that same trade in South-East Asia. From my past education all I can remember (whether this is correctly or not) they dealt with some of the same circumstances. This makes me wonder whether the British had used some of the knowledge gained in earlier voyages and now tried to install a ‘better’ system in place. For example how Cederlöf mentioned how the British really tried to legitimize their rule (68). Was this a strategy based upon earlier experiences?
On the environmental level I believe this book offers an interesting bases for further research on current environmental problems. How has the British colonial interference still has its effect today? Does the monsoon still have such a great effect on the land usage? Also a comparison to the Western part China could be instituted. China and India are similar in some (environmental) characteristics, but differ much at the same time. Population growth, pollution, disease are components to compare, where one has had a period of colonial oppression, versus a region which has not or barely. Both India and China suffer from certain environmental problems, however these can have very different forms. Cederlöf mentions ecological barriers; are these still visible, now or in recent history.
The looking forward approach towards history is also helpful on the ecological level. How much evidence was there at the time that environment can rapidly change like it does during the monsoons in Asia. There is some research on rivers and their patterns in the early 1800’s, however these are often set in Europe, in very different circumstances. To what extend can you question the position of the British and their rigid attitude with the limited knowledge that had been offered. This is often criticized, however, since revenue is not their main purpose according to some sources, their rigid attitude is not so surprising.