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Reading the East India Company 1720-1840

Colonial Currencies of Gender

In Reading the East India Company, Betty Joseph offers an innovative account of how archives—and the practice of archiving—shaped colonial ideologies in Britain and British-controlled India during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Drawing on the British East India Company’s records as well as novels, memoirs, portraiture and guidebooks, Joseph shows how the company’s economic and archival practices intersected to produce colonial "fictions" or "truth-effects" that strictly governed class and gender roles—in effect creating a "grammar of power" that kept the far-flung empire intact. And while women were often excluded from this archive, Joseph finds that we can still hear their voices at certain key historical junctures. Attending to these voices, Joseph illustrates how the writing of history belongs not only to the colonial project set forth by British men, but also to the agendas and mechanisms of agency—of colonized Indian, as well as European women. In the process, she makes a valuable and lasting contribution to gender studies, postcolonial theory, and the history of South Asia.

216 pages | 2 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2003

Women in Culture and Society

Asian Studies: South Asia

Culture Studies

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature

Women's Studies


"Joseph’s search for lost voices is impressive because it does not rely merely on archaeological investigation; rather, the official record is excavated in order to be recontexualized, so that the voluminous paper trail of the Company’s administration does not itself authoritatively represent British-controlled India.... Finding ways in which to represent even the faintest presence of women in the official record, Joseph devotes the second half of her illuminating study to examples of English and Asian women whose names or utterances played a significant part in forming history.... Recovering their voices from the archive and reminding readers that the official record did not stand alone in the making of British India, Joseph’s imaginative study makes a vital contribution to the historiography of colonialism."

Alison Stenton | Times Literary Supplement

"Joseph is able to move from factory records to novels to paintings to guidebooks in her attempt to reveal the ways in which the figure of woman worked within, sometimes at the edge of or even against, imperialist imperatives. This movement . . . is one of the great strengths of the book. . . . Reading the East India Company is, in its contribution to the scholarship regarding early British India, postcolonial theory, and feminist studies, a valuable and resourceful book."

Teresa Hubel | Canadian Literature

"Though addressed to literary critics and historians, the book contains valuable insight for economists on the central role of gender in Indian economic and political life. . . . A powerful statement on how to read and what to read, as we construct the political and economic history of the colonization of India."

Brian Cooper | Feminist Economics

"[Joseph] has produced an important analysis, which historians and cultural critics of all sorts will appreciate, of the ways in which archival and other kinds of writing do some of the ideological work of imperial power and function as barometers of shifts in its political, military, and gendering practices."

Kathleen Wilson | Radical History Review

"A book that rewards careful reading both by those interested in the history of the novel in this period, and by those who think about the interrelations between institutions of empire, systems of colonial knowledge, and forms of modern subjectivity."

Suvir Kaul | Eifghteenth-Century Life

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Archive without Walls
1. Globalizing Defoe
2. Archival Fictions: Memories of Violence in the Age of Sensibility
3. The Politics of Settlement
4. The Rani of Burdwan as Historical Subject
5. Critical Genealogies
Epilogue: Recon(figuring) Woman

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