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Edge of Empire


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About the Author

Maya Jasanoff is the Coolidge Professor of History at Harvard. She is the author of the prize-winning Edge of Empire: Lives, Culture, and Conquest in the East, 1750-1850 (2005) and Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World (2011), which received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Non-Fiction and the George Washington Book Prize. A 2013 Guggenheim Fellow, Jasanoff won the 2017 Windham-Campbell Prize for Non-Fiction. Her essays and reviews appear frequently in publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, and The New York Review of Books.


In her debut book, Jasanoff challenges the idea that the British Empire imposed its own culture on its colonies, arguing instead that the empire thrived because it was able to "find ways of accommodating difference." As evidence, she traces the history of objects collected in India and Egypt by "border-crossers": diplomats and soldiers, "aristocrats and Grand Tourists" who, by collecting artifacts, influenced the homeland's perception of colonized countries. As she explains how various collections were put together through theft, excavation and connoisseurship, she personalizes the history by profiling those who were fueled to collect by the need for reinvention and pursuit "of social status and wealth." Jasanoff's narrative is most notable for synthesizing the study of architecture, art and commerce, as well as military and cultural history, and for digging deeper than predecessors. For example, in addition to the East India Company's infamous Robert Clive, she also profiles Clive's virtually forgotten son Edward, a much more ambitious collector. In this intriguing and readable book, Jasanoff, an assistant professor of British history at the University of Virginia, creates fertile common ground between the dominant stories put forth by postcolonial critics such as Edward Said and boosters like Niall Ferguson. 48 b&w illus. Agent, Andrew Wylie. (Aug. 30) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

In the Anglo-French rivalry for empire between 1750 and 1850, India and Egypt were the key prizes. Jasanoff (British history, Univ. of Virginia) shows how this rivalry revealed itself in the competition to grab antiquities from these countries. After establishing Robert Clive (in military service for the British East India Company and later governor of Bengal) as the key British imperialist figure, Jasanoff uses his gaining wealth, art, magnificent houses, and control of seats in Parliament to frame her study of acquisition as empire. Similarly, she examines the predilection of Frenchmen Antoine Polier, Benoit de Boigne, and Claude Martin for Sanskrit manuscripts and other antiquities, taken by them from the Indian city of Lucknow. Jasanoff identifies two chief points of collision-the 1799 British capture of the Muslim island fortress of Seringapatam in Mysore, India, and the 1801 French invasion of Egypt by Napoleon-which led to a sense of imperial validation and new European attitudes regarding the Orient. In graceful prose and with evocative illustrations, Jasanoff scores her points about conquest, collecting, and cultural crossing, offering a thoughtful and highly subtle study. This is her first book, and it's a very good one for all academic and research libraries.-John F. Riddick, Central Michigan Univ. Lib., Mt. Pleasant Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

"Spirited, teeming. . . . Jasanoff wants us to rethink the imperial experience." -The New York Times"Astute and moving. . . . As original--and beautifully written-as it is compelling to read." -The New York Sun"A historical tour de force, with wonderfully original and unusual material moulded into a convincing new narrative. Britain's empire will never look the same again."-The Guardian"Instead of concentrating on the 18th-and 19th-century European empire builders. . . . Jasanoff focuses on several ambitious, energetic, and eccentric men who used the East as a way to reinvent themselves....a fascinating and untold story." -The Boston Globe

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