ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Writing the Mughal State as a Spatial Process

Mughal Warfare: Indian Frontiers and High Roads to Empire, 1500-1700 by Jos Gommans (London: Routledge), 2002; pp 256, $27.95.

Making Space: Sufis and Settlers in Early Modern India by Nile Green (New York: Oxford University Press), 2012; pp 339, $60.

State and Locality in Mughal India: Power Relations in Western India, c 1572-1730 by Farhat Hasan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 2004; pp 160, $108.

Two decades ago Sanjay Subrahmanyam (1992) challenged historians of Mughal India to transform the way the staid assumptions on which their craft was based. Rather than seeking out the “essential structure” of the Mughal state, he argued, historians should describe and explain the evolution of state-society interaction over time. Subrahmanyam was frustrated with how historians, operating in the enormous shadow of Irfan Habib (2001), had failed to go beyond an understanding of the Mughal state as a fully-formed and perfectly functioning agrarian fiscal system. Subrahmanyam teamed up with Muzaffar Alam to expand and co-author an expansion of his original argument that laid the ground for an innovative research agenda of the Mughal state. Their first argument was that the “‘Mughal system’ was certainly not born in ‘adult form’; it grew and evolved both before and after Akbar’s reign in quite significant ways” (Alam and Subrahmanyam 1998: 33). The second claim was the spatial corollary of the first: the geographical reach of the Mughal state waxed and waned and its method of operating differed by locality. The third and final claim challenged the concept of an unvarying and secular “Mughal decline” in the 17th century, and offered, instead, a formulation of increasing regional centralisation as the defining feature of political transition from the 17th to the 18th century.

The books under review engage with Alam and Subrahmanyam’s claims in extremely productive ways. All three books are striking in their engagement with the spatiality of the Mughal state. Indeed, the works demonstrate that a consideration of spatiality requires analysis of the state as a historical process that must engage factors external to itself as it evolves.

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