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SAP Seminar Series, The Postcolonial State and Colonial Capital: Steamships, Waterways, and the Making of East Pakistan's National Economy, by Tariq Omar Ali

Monday, November 12, 2018 at 12:15pm to 1:30pm

Uris Hall, G08

Steam transformed the topography of eastern Bengal’s waterways during the late nineteenth, altering the routes, speeds, and directions through which commodities, capital, and people circulated on the delta’s riverways. Steam constituted Calcutta as the delta’s metropolis and, conversely, the delta as Calcutta’s hinterland. Partition carved out the deltaic hinterland, severed it from its metropolis in Calcutta, and reconstituted it as the sovereign territory of Pakistan. The postcolonial Pakistani state attempted to reconstitute Bengal’s partitioned territory as a territorially-bounded national economy. British-owned steamer companies, the India General Navigation (IGN) and River Steam Navigation (RSN) companies, were critical to the state’s project. This presentation examines how colonial capital, often at the instigation of the postcolonial state, changed their organizational structures, inaugurated new routes, purchased new steamships, built dock-side infrastructure, and altered fossil fuel use in an attempt to enclose flows of commodities, capital, and people within partition lines. Cooperation between the postcolonial state and colonial capital was secured on the basis that timely returns on the steamer companies’ investments were not contradictory to progress towards a national economy. This cooperation was continually undermined by interruptions from, amongst other things, the delta's riverine ecology, climatic events, oar and sail powered boats, and energy supplies. This paper examines the fraught relationship between the postcolonial state and colonial capital in the context of the statist project to reconstitute Bengal’s partitioned territory as national economy.

Tariq Omar Ali is Assistant Professor in the History Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. His first book A Local History of Global Capital: Jute and Peasant Life in the Bengal Delta was published by Princeton University Press just this year. He is working on a second book examining how East Pakistan's partitioned territory was reconstituted as Pakistan's national economy. This presentation is from preliminary research towards this project.










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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, South Asia Program, History, City and Regional Planning




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Valerie Foster Githinji

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Tariq Omar Ali

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