ADDRESSES: Office—The Oriental Institute, Pusey Lane, Oxford OX1 2LE, England. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Historian, educator, and author. École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, France, director of studies and research professor; Oxford University, Oxford England, professor of Indian history and culture, 2003—. St. Cross College, fellow, 2003—.
(With Velcheru Narayana Rao and David Shulman) Symbols of Substance, Court and State in N-ayaka Period Tamilnadu, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1992.
The Portuguese Empire in Asia, 1500-1700: A Political and Economic History, Longman (New York, NY), 1993.
(With Velcheru Narayana Rao and David Shulman) Textures of Time: Writing History in South India, 1600-1800, Permanent Black (Delhi, India), 2001, Other Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Money and the Market in India, 100-1700, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1994.
(With Burton Stein) Institutions and Economic Change in South Asia, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Merchant Networks in the Early Modern World, Variorum (Brookfield, VT), 1996.
(With Kaushik Basu) Unravelling the Nation: Sectarian Conflict and India's Secular Identity, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1996.
(With Alam Muzaffar) The Mu-g-hal State, 1526-1750, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Sinners and Saints: The Successors of Vasco da Gama, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Has also written numerous articles for historical and other scholarly journals.
SIDELIGHTS: Sanjay Subrahmanyam is an historian who specializes in the economic and social history of India and Indian Ocean between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. He is also an expert on the Portuguese era in Indian history. He has edited and written numerous books on his area of study, including a biography of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama. Subrahmanyam has conducted his research and taught at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. In 2003 Oxford University appointed him the school's first professor of Indian history and culture.
Writing for the national newspaper of India, the Hindu, Rukun Advani commented that Subrahmanyam is uniquely qualified to write Indian history based on information garnered from other languages. Advani noted that Subrahmanyam "alone has the linguistic ability to use archives in Portuguese, French, Dutch, Tamil, Telugu and English. Subrahmanyam was once the énfant terrible of Modern Indian History and has now blossomed into its Phantom: he's everywhere, and when he walks, the Indian history jungle quakes—usually with envy." Advani also noted, "He is the most prolific historian that anyone can ever remember between Sir Jadunath Sarkar and now."
Subrahmanyam made use of his familiarity with other languages to study Dutch, English, and Portuguese archives for his book The Political Economy of Commerce: Southern India, 1500-1650. In the book, Subrahmanyam focuses on the long-distance trade and the economic and political structure of southern India, going against accepted beliefs that early trade between Europe and India was benign. Rather, argues the Subrahmanyam, the trading companies and the Indian states had an adversarial relationship that included blockades, ship seizures, and even massacres. John F. Richards writing in the American Historical Review noted that Subrahmanyam provides "powerful insights." He also called the book "an important and challenging study of the interlocking spheres of trade and politics in early modern South India." In the Times Literary Supplement, K. N. Chaudhuri said, "Subrahmanyam's book is both analytically penetrating and comprehensive in its description of South Indian commercial system."
In Improvising Empire: Portuguese Trade and Settlement in the Bay of Bengal, 1500-1700, Subrahmanyam presents a collection of articles he wrote between 1984 and 1988 about the history of the Bay of Bengal and its indigenous peoples' interaction with Portuguese and other European traders. N. R. Bennett, writing in Choice, said that "Subrahmanyam's essays, when read as a whole, stimulate thinking about the significant Bengali region with its links to the regions of southeast Asia influenced by India and China." The author's The Portuguese Empire in Asia, 1500-1700: A Political and Economic History provides a chronological assessment of Portuguese policy in Asia. In Comparative Studies in Society and History reviewer Victor Lieberman called Subrahmanyam a "prolific, irrepressibly original scholar" who "marshals a wealth of secondary and primary evidence" for his book. James D. Tracy, writing in the Journal of Asian Studies, called the book a "lively and provocative survey." And Kenneth Maxwell in the New York Review of Books noted, "Synthesizing a generation of research, his book is an indispensable starting point for comprehending the Portuguese exploits both in Asia and Europe."
With The Career and Legend of Vasco da Gama Subrahmanyam departed from his usual broad approach to history and culture to focus on one individual. Based on a huge number of published and unpublished sources in numerous languages, the book chronicles da Gama's career while attempting to differentiate between the legend of the Portuguese explorer and the reality. It is known that da Gama captained the Portuguese fleet that found a sea route from Europe to Asia in the late fifteenth century and that his career prospered from there. But little is known about his life before heading the fleet, including where he was born and how he rose to become the commander of such an important mission. Subrahmanyam uses extensive archival research to flesh out da Gama's life. Writing in History: Review of New Books, reviewer Chandra R. De Silva noted that the author "often lets sources speak for themselves, giving readers the alternative viewpoints offered by contemporary analysts and later commentators. He thus produces a work that is much better than any previous biography of da Gama." Randolph Stow, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, noted, "It would have been helpful to have had a glossary of the numerous Portuguese, Arabic, Italian and Malayalam terms which appear more than once." Stow went on to say, "Subrahmanyam has deployed his special knowledge both of the indian Ocean and of Portugal to re-create a fascinating world."
In Penumbral Visions: Making Polities in Early Modern South India Subrahmanyam turns his attention to the creation of and changes within south Indian states between 1500 and 1800 in response to European aggressions. The book also focuses on Indian states that have been largely neglected by historians, including Mysore, Tanjavur, and Arcot. Subrahmanyam explores the social, cultural, and political history of these states, which varied from large imperial domains to more modest governments. Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Francis Robinson commented, "One passionate concern shines through much of what Subrahmanyam writes. He wishes to demonstrate that historical modernity did not flow from Europe but is a global and conjunctional phenomenon." In Choice reviewer W. W. Reinhardt noted Subrahmanyam's "excellent scholarship" in writing the book's essays, which he called "analytical, scholarly, wide-ranging."
As for his appointment to Oxford University, Subrahmanyam noted in an Oxford University press release that he views the position "as a challenge to bridge the worlds of Indology and modern history, as well as open up Indian studies itself to wider currents. India cannot be studied in isolation, but must be understood in its larger context, whether Asian or even Eurasian."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, June, 1991, John F. Richards, review of The Political Economy of Commerce: Southern India, 1500-1650, p. 934; February, 1993, October, 1995, Indira Viswanathan Peterson, review of Symbols of Substance, Court and State in N-ayaka Period Tamilnadu, pp. 1279-1280.
Choice, December, 1991, N. R. Bennett, review of Improvising Empire: Portuguese Trade and Settlement in the Bay of Bengal, 1500-1700, p. 646; January, 1994, B. G. Gokhale, review of Symbols of Substance, Court and State in N-ayaka Period Tamilnadu, p. 845; May, 2002, W. W. Reinhardt, review of Penumbral Visions: Making Polities in Early Modern South India, p. 1640.
Comparative Studies in Social History, October, 1994, Victor Lieberman, review of The Portuguese Empire in Asia, 1500-1700: A Political and Economic History, p. 814-816.
English Historical Review, October, 1993, C. A. Bayly, review of The Portuguese Empire in Asia, 1500-1700: A Political and Economic History, p. 977; April, 1994, Tapan Raychaudhuri, review of The Political Economy of Commerce: Southern India, 1500-1650, p. 434.
History: Review of New Books, winter, 1998, Chandra R. De Silva, review of The Career and Legend of Vasco da Gama, p. 99.
Journal of Asian Studies, August, 1993, James D. Tracy, review of The Portuguese Empire in Asia, 1500-1700: A Political and Economic History, pp. 700-701; February, 1996, James Heitzman, review of Money and the Market in India, 100-1700, pp. 200-202.
Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Spring, 1998, Douglas L. Wheeler, review of The Career and Legend of Vasco da Gama, p. 673.
Journal of Modern History, March, 1999, Donald F. Lach, review of The Career and Legend of Vasco da Gama, p. 223.
New York Review of Books, January 28, 1993, Kenneth Maxwell, review of The Portuguese Empire in Asia, 1500-1700: A Political and Economic History, pp. 38-45.
Pacific Affairs, fall, 1993, Balkrishna G. Gokhale, review of The Political Economy of Commerce: Southern India, 1500-1650, p. 440.
Sixteenth Century Journal, summer, 1997, Jerry H. Bentley, "Revisiting the Expansion of Europe," pp. 503-510.
Times Higher Education Supplement, September 24, 1993, Abdoolkarim Vakil review of The Portuguese Empire in Asia, 1500-1700: A Political and Economic History, p. 29.
Times Literary Supplement, August 31, 1990, K. N. Chaudhuri, "An Empire and After," p. 929; June 13, 1997, Randolph Stow, "Cruelty in Calicut," review of The Career and Legend of Vasco Da Gama, p. 40; May 10, 2002, Francis Robinson, "When India Ruled the Waves," pp. 11-12.
Hindu,http://www.hinduonnet.com/ (January 3, 2003), Rukun Advani, "The History Jungle."
Oxford University Web site,http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/ (January 30, 2002), "Oxford Appoints First Professor of Indian History and Culture."*