A History of British India

Taught By Hayden J. Bellenoit, D.Phil. U.S. Naval Academy

Shaped by its richly diverse cultural heritage and by immensely significant historical events, the Indian subcontinent holds a unique place in world civilization.

Perhaps no era is more relevant to our understanding of how present-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh came to be than the nearly two centuries of British rule, beginning in 1757, during which India emerged as the most valuable colony of any empire in history. This was a period of seminal transformation and change—for the subcontinent, for Britain, and for the world.

In the 24 engrossing lectures of A History of British India, Professor Hayden J. Bellenoit of the U.S. Naval Academy, a highly respected expert on colonial India, leads you on a panoramic excursion into the history of British rule of the subcontinent and its repercussions. With a keen focus on the politics and economics of the period, Professor Bellenoit digs deeply into both the British and the Indian points of view, providing a wealth of information and insights that will be new to many in the West.

Professor Bellenoit shows the British conquest of India and its governance of the subcontinent to be one of the most compelling, dramatic, and colorful meetings of cultures in all of human history. Over the course of this extraordinary saga you’ll explore:

  • how the English East India Company, a commercial trading organization, established a foothold on the subcontinent and took the reins of governance in one of the most unusual political transformations the world has ever seen;
  • how the mighty Mughal Empire, builders of the Taj Mahal and longstanding Muslim rulers of large swaths of India, gradually unraveled in the face of British conquest;
  • how Britain greatly extended its rule across the subcontinent, built a massive economic machine in India, and ultimately exacted a heavy price from the Indian populace; and
  • how India finally achieved independence in 1947, through one of humanity’s most remarkable examples of resourceful and philosophically sophisticated leadership.

Professor Bellenoit brings into relief the motives of the British throughout their long stay in India, the moral hypocrisy of the Raj, and the sometimes devastating effects of Raj policy on British Indian subjects. A History of British India offers a revealing look at how the modern nations of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh emerged from the crucible of the Raj, and it examines the long-term effects of British rule on regional politics, religion, culture, economics, race relations, and more.

This account of the British encounter with India will enlighten your perspectives on European imperialism, world economic history, the specific features of British colonialism, and the rich and dynamic cultures of South Asia.

The astonishing narrative of A History of British India sheds new light on a region that is home to nearly a quarter of the planet’s total population, as well as two nuclear powers, the world’s largest democracy, and the second-, third-, and fourth- largest Muslim nations. Given how South Asia’s importance in the 21st century world is only increasing, this is a history we all need to know.

An Epic Story of Empire and Dissent

In the course of the lectures, you’ll study core topics that bring the story of British India alive in all its drama, complexity, and poignancy, such as

  • The British Conquest of India—Discover how the East India Company, having metamorphosed into a political entity in Bengal, expanded its territorial power through military actions and power-brokering; examine how the Company co-opted the Mughal revenue and administrative system and governed India for the first 100 years of British rule.
  • The Great Uprising: 1857—Witness the attempts of the British colonials and evangelical Christians to “reform” India along European lines; track the growing economic, political, and cultural resentments against the East India Company that culminated in the Great Uprising of 1857 and the resulting shift to direct rule of India by the British crown;
  • Economics under the Raj—Take a penetrating look at how the colonial economy functioned, and how British rule refashioned India’s role in the global economy into one serving Britain and its imperial interests; grasp how British economic policy benefited certain classes of Indians while causing great hardship and tragedy for others;
  • The Advent of Indian Nationalism—Observe how both Hindu and Muslim identity were affected by the Raj, and how both became linked with conflicting notions of Indian nationhood; study the remarkable story of how Indian nationalism emerged through the efforts of English-educated Indians, and how nationalist action increased through the late 19th century;
  • Gandhi, Jinnah, and the Struggle for Independence—Follow the quest for independence undertaken by the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League; explore the brilliance and sophistication of Gandhi’s political philosophy, which exposed moral faults in the Raj, the shrewd maneuvering of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and how they reorganized the nationalist cause into mass movements;
  • The Birth of Modern India—Relive the events of the Noncooperation, Civil Disobedience, and Quit India movements, the escalating calls for independence, and the simmering Hindu-Muslim violence that shaped the partition of British India into the nations of India and Pakistan.

A Transformative Encounter between West and East

Throughout this course, you’ll delve deeply into fascinating and illuminating cultural features of the British rule in India. Early in the course, you’ll trace the economic motives that brought the British and other Europeans to India—where, in the 18th century, one quarter of the world’s commerce passed through the subcontinent, and where a single Bengali family had holdings larger than the Bank of England.

You’ll learn about British Orientalism, the colonials’ studied effort to “know the country” in order to effectively govern it, and how their tendency to traditionalize and romanticize India had consequences for both policy and the well-being of Indians. And you’ll observe how, under the Muslim-ruled Mughal Empire, there was very little Hindu-Muslim religious conflict in 18th-century India, and how over time British policies distanced and polarized the two cultures.

Among other intriguing subtopics, Professor Bellenoit reveals how the emergence of Britain as a tea-drinking culture was directly linked to the economy of colonial India, as tea became a crucial commodity in the fiscal maneuvering of the East India Company. And he brings into focus the lavish lifestyles of India’s royals—one Nizam of Hyderabad maintained over 200 wives and concubines—and how the British cultivated ties with regional Indian princes as a means of undergirding the Raj’s power and authority.

Again and again, you’ll assess the fundamental contradiction that underlay both the English East India Company and the British Raj: the conflict between Britain’s economic interests and its obligations as the political sovereign of the Indian populace.

An Unforgettable Historical Journey

Professor Bellenoit breathes life into the events of British rule, combining a talent for communicating the broader patterns of history with dramatic storytelling, in a detailed, gripping account of this world-changing epoch. Illustrative maps, graphics, portraits, photographs, and artwork greatly enrich the video version of the course. In the dynamic and revelatory lectures of A History of British India, you’ll relive a crucial era in international relations, one with deep and enduring implications for our contemporary world.

 A History of British India
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