The James Ford Lectures : Dynasty and Violence

Family and Empire: Kinship and British Colonialism in the East India Company Era, c. 1750-1850 

Speaker: Professor Margot Finn (President of the RHS & Chair in Modern British History at University College London)

Families provided the building blocks of East India Company commerce, administration and warfare on the subcontinent, but family was—though dynastic politics—also a central political prism through which the British viewed the legitimacy (or not) of the successive Indian princely governments they supplanted.  What can an understanding of British dynastic thinking tell us about power, politics and governmentality in the Company era—and indeed, in the decades of Crown rule that followed the Company’s demise in 1858?  This lecture examines British understandings and misunderstandings of ‘legitimate’ and ‘traditional’ family forms in India and Britain as a window onto wider, cross-cultural developments in nineteenth-century dynastic politics.  Concepts and practices of family and kinship both united and divided the British governing classes from the Indian rulers they sought to displace from power.  Examining topics such as adoption, sati and royal succession disputes, this lecture suggests the need to locate family and dynasty more securely into our understanding of what it meant to be ‘modern’ in the Victorian era.