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Work and Society in the East India Company Settlements in Bengal, 1650-1757

Chakraborty, Titas (2016) Work and Society in the East India Company Settlements in Bengal, 1650-1757. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation examines the history of work in the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the English East India Company (EIC) settlements in Bengal between 1650 and 1757. By 1650, both companies had firmly established trading networks in Bengal, and by the early years of the eighteenth century, the profitability of trade in Bengal had become very clear to both companies. The volume and value of trade grew steadily until 1757, when the EIC defeated the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-Daulah, at the Battle of Plassey, thereby inaugurating direct colonial conquest of the region. During this period of trade, when neither company had political sway over the region and very little intrusion into the producing hinterland, they employed hundreds, sometimes thousands, of workers each year. How did these corporate entities manage labor in time and place, where their political control over workers was severely challenged? To answer this question, this dissertation specifically looks at workers who were directly employed by the companies. In doing so, it brings to light the lives and work of laboring people–boatmen, cartmen, coolies, silk reelers, slaves, sailors and soldiers—thus far ignored by social and economic historians of South Asia and the Indian Ocean. Most importantly, it reveals a world of work marked by the workers’ assertion of their right to mobility and “customary” payments. By emphasizing workers’ agency, I argue that the European companies’ control over the workers was far from total. Building on the rich body of work on the economic, social and labor histories of Mughal India and the Indian Ocean, this work proposes to shift the focus of eighteenth-century South Asian history from economic histories of trade and the history of both European and Asian mercantile and political elites to the social history of working people. It also brings labor history into the pre-colonial history of South Asia.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Chakraborty, Titastic20@pitt.eduTIC20
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairRediker, Marcusmarcusrediker@yahoo.comRED1
Committee MemberManning, Patrickpmanning@pitt.eduPMANNING
Committee Memberwarsh, Mollywarsh@pitt.eduWARSH
Committee Memberfisher,
Date: 28 September 2016
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 5 August 2016
Approval Date: 28 September 2016
Submission Date: 1 August 2016
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 334
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: labor, East India company, Bengal, Mobility,
Date Deposited: 28 Sep 2016 23:52
Last Modified: 28 Sep 2021 05:15


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