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

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The Return of Historical Demography

A Population History of India: From the First Modern People to the Present Day by Tim Dyson, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2018; pp 310, £36.99.

No researcher has done more to understand the historical demo­graphy of India than Tim Dyson. In 1989, he edited a volume, India’s Historical Demography: Studies in Famine, Disease and Society, arguably the first set of writings on Indian historical dem­o­graphy (Dyson 1989), after Kingsley ­Davis’s seminal work The Population of India and Pakistan (Davis 1951). In the 1990’s, Dyson continued to write a series of research papers on the demographic history of Berar in central India and on the demography of famines, focusing mostly on the late 19th and early 20th centuries. After a brief lull of two decades, which saw his research cover other themes and regions, he returns to his research roots in this book.

The book has 10 chapters that follow a familiar chronology of grand-sweep histories of India till the 19th century—two chapters on prehistory and early history, a chapter taking the narrative from there till c 1000 CE, another from there to c 1707 CE, followed by one till c 1821. Then, it follows a non-political chronology that is dictated more by dem­ographic considerations—one chapter covers the period from c 1821 till the first full-scale census of c 1871, a chapter on the 1871–1921 period that was demographically volatile with major famines and epidemics, a chapter on the 1921–71 period, when the Indian population growth rate began to systematically rise, and the more recent period characterised by fertility reduction from c 1971 to c 2016. For each time period, Dyson pays close attention to the scholarship of that time period and offers an argument or fresh analysis for the most likely demographic trajectory in a field where data is barely available before the censuses of the late 19th century. Every chapter has a similar template, covering population trends, fertility and mortality, major dem­ographic events, urbanisation and migration.

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Updated On : 5th Oct, 2020

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