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Terrestrial Lessons

The Conquest of the World as Globe

Why and how do debates about the form and disposition of our Earth shape enlightened subjectivity and secular worldliness in colonial modernity? Sumathi Ramaswamy explores this question for British India with the aid of the terrestrial globe, which since the sixteenth century has circulated as a worldly symbol, a scientific instrument, and not least an educational tool for inculcating planetary consciousness.
In Terrestrial Lessons, Ramaswamy provides the first in-depth analysis of the globe’s history in and impact on the Indian subcontinent during the colonial era and its aftermath. Drawing on a wide array of archival sources, she delineates its transformation from a thing of distinction possessed by elite men into that mass-produced commodity used in classrooms worldwide—the humble school globe. Traversing the length and breadth of British India, Terrestrial Lessons is an unconventional history of this master object of pedagogical modernity that will fascinate historians of cartography, science, and Asian studies.

416 pages | 51 halftones | 7 x 10 | © 2017

Asian Studies: South Asia

Geography: Cultural and Historical Geography

History: Asian History, History of Ideas

History of Science


“Global history takes on a whole new meaning in Ramaswamy’s assiduously researched and elegantly delivered account of terrestrial globes, planetary consciousness, and pedagogic modernity. Ranging widely across India and its colonial history, and in a narrative that encompasses religion, gender, fiction, photography, and film, she demonstrates the centrality of terrestrial geography to an expanding empire of education. In her astute and nuanced analysis the ‘Modern Earth’ gains a new density of meaning and in ‘cartographic evangelism’ she develops a concept of rare distinction and wide applicability. Terrestrial Lessons is an intellectual tour de force from which we can all learn.”

David Arnold, University of Warwick

Terrestrial Lessons brims with the gems of research of one of the most important scholars writing today in the history of geographical knowledge, gathered from across diverse genres, archives, and lives. Notably, Ramaswamy covers the whole of India, from south to north, which is a rare feature even in this transnational age. It is a profound scholarly commitment to historical method—combined of course with the beautiful writing which we now expect from Ramaswamy’s golden pen—that leads the reader to agree that the ubiquity of the globe was never natural or inevitable, but that the range of paths that led to the outcome of globe as icon varied across different religious, cultural, and gendered registers of being and knowledge-making.”

Sujit Sivasundaram, University of Cambridge

“This is a fascinating study of the globe as material artifact and analytic concept in the shaping of colonial minds. At once an instrument of nation building and secular thinking, geography emerged as a key subject in what Ramaswamy aptly calls ‘pedagogical modernity’, dislodging inherited cosmological views of the earth. Whether to inculcate a vaunted sense of worldliness in Indian princely rulers or a modernizing sensibility in young learners, the terrestrial globe became a vital icon of British imperial dominance, as this well-researched book admirably demonstrates.”

Gauri Viswanathan, Columbia University

In all I found this a valuable book and a welcome addition to my cartographic history library.

Imago Mundi

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations 
Prologue: Global Itineraries, Earth Inscriptions 

Chapter One: In Pursuit of a Global Thing 
Chapter Two: “As You Live in the World, You Ought to Know Something of the World” 
Chapter Three: The Global Pandit 
Chapter Four: Down to Earth? Of Girls and Globes 
Chapter Five: “It’s Called a Globe. It Is the Earth. Our Earth!” 
Epilogue: The Conquest of the World as Globe 
In Gratitude 

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