Birth of the engineering profession in India

26768170716_d1d2ddffd3_zJohn Mathew writes in his review of The Birth of an Indian Profession: Engineers, Industry, and the State, 1900–47 by Aparajith Ramnath, in Economic & Political Weekly:

At the heart of Aparajith Ramnath’s important book is an implicit assertion: it would be extraordinarily difficult, if not well nigh impossible, to replace the generalist “gentleman” British engineer with Indian alternatives. The assertion is not that of the author’s, but of a regnant colonial mindset, lamentably familiar across far more than just the world of engineering. Engineering, however, is the remit of this work, exhaustively pursued across five chapters and spanning the near extent of half of the 20th century. The result is a meticulous account of a changing tide, relentless in its sweep, despite entrenched expressions of imperial superiority; an account that is masterfully related at the hand of an already accomplished historian.

Central to the work are two themes, industrialisation and Indianisation, in a felicitous appeal to the alliterative. The choice of the 47-year period (1900–47) for study is, at first, a little curious, particularly when attention to “the long 19th century” is notably invoked. The study could have either begun at the transition from the Company rule to that of the Crown at the turn to the 1860s, or in the succeeding decade with the establishment of the Indian Association of the Cultivation of Science (1876). It could have even begun, by contrast, in the short 20th century commencing just shy of World WarI, while still managing to include the Islington Commission of 1912 (an important element in the book). If it is the sanctity of the 20th century, however, that is sought, Ramnath does manage the contrast skilfully, inasmuch as the effects of that long 19th century are still very much in vogue at the top of the 1900s. Against these, the upheavals of World WarsI andII, and the freedom struggle from Home Rule to full-fledged calls for independence, stand in relief.

Read the full review in Economic & Political Weekly

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