Environmental History of South Asia

Home/ Environmental History of South Asia
Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSLS2HS1044

Semester and Year Offered: Monsoon Semester 2019

Course Coordinator and Team: Dhirendra Datt Dangwal

Email of course coordinator: dhirendra[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: none

Objectives: The course intends to:

  1. Make students aware of the historiography of environmental history of South Asia.
  2. Discuss the changing human-nature relationship in the last two centuries in south Asia.
  3. Make students aware of how colonial state extended control over land, forest, water, wildlife, etc. and how people resisted it.
  4. Further analyse these issues in post-colonial period and make students aware of the natural world around them.

Course outcomes: On completion of the course students will be able to

  1. Demonstrate an awareness of the nature of environmental change that Indian sub-continent has gone through historically.
  2. Identify socio-cultural practices of people of India evolved overtime for managing natural resources.
  3. Understand the role of the modern states in regulating and extracting natural resources.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:


A: Pre-Colonial Period

1. Different Modes of Resource Use

This gives picture of various historical modes of resource use to students.

2. Ancient Indian Society and Environment

This module elaborates how ancient society perceived forests and how that perception changed over time.

3. Understanding Nature and Culture in Medieval India

This module examins how medieval society managed its forests.

B: Colonial Period

4. Colonialism as Ecological Watershed

The debate around colonialism as ecological watershed is examined.

5. Colonial State and Forest Control

The module discusses how colonial state extended control over forests.

  1. Forest Acts and Customary Rights
  2. State Forestry and People: Peasants, Pastoralists, tribal.
  3. Scientific Forestry and Forest Management
  4. Forest Exploitation and deforestation

6. Colonialism and Management of Water Resources

The discussion covers role of colonial state in managing water resources.

  1. Traditional use of water resources and its decline
  2. Large-scale canal irrigation and its environmental consequences

7. Wildlife Management

The module examines colonial policy towards wildlife.

  1. Nature of Hunting in ancient and medieval times
  2. Colonialism, Masculinity and Hunting
  3. Wildlife Conservation and National Parks
  4. Human Animal Conflicts around National Parks

C: Post-Colonial Period

8. Biomass for Business: Industrial Use of wood

This module caries forward the debate of managing forests in post colonial period.

9. Large Dams and Environmental Problems

The discussion covers debates around building large dams.

10. Changing Urban Environment: Health, hygiene, waste disposal and treatment, air pollution

How urbanisation leads to environmental problems is the focus of this module.

11. Environmental Movements

How state control over natural resources and their over exploitation and degradation gave rise to resistance and environmental movements is focus of this module.

  1. Historical Roots of environmental Protests
  2. Environmental Movements
  3. Environmentalism

12. New structures of Environmental Governance and their impact on the life of people

This module deals with the recent environmental legislations and how these influenced governance of natural resources in the country.

  1. Wildlife Conservation Act and Protected Areas
  2. Forest Conservation Act 1980 and Forest and Livelihood Act 2006
  3. Air and water Pollution Acts and Regulations

Assessment Details with weights:

The evaluation is divided in to four parts: two assignments of 20% each (in Mid-September and 10 October); 20% for class participation (which includes writing thought pieces based on readings and participating in class discussion on thought pieces, throughout the semester ); and 40 % end semester examination.

The first assignment is to test how students understand question and use various readings to develop a logical answer on a given theme. Second assignment generally involves book review where it is tested that how students are able to read a text carefully, review it and present it in the class. Third assignment is weekly class discussion based on the reading given in advance. And final assignment, the end semster examination, tests student’s ability to graps the course and write answers to questions in a given time. This tests knowledge, analytical skill, and ability to argue a point of view based on the knowledge acquired from the course over the semester.

Reading List:

Essential Readings:

  • Arnold, David and R. Guha, eds, Nature, Culture, Imperialism: Essays on Environmental History of South Asia, OUP, Delhi, 1995.
  • Bavisker, Amita, In the Belly of the River: Tribal Conflict in the Narmada Valley, OUP, Delhi, 1995.
  • Dangwal, Dhirendra Datt, Himalayan Degradation: Colonial Forestry and Environmental Change in India, CUP (Foundation Imprint), Delhi, 2009.
  • Gadgil, Madav and Ramachandra Guha, This Fissured Land, OUP, Delhi, 1992.
  • Grove, Richard H. Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Eden and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600-1860, OUP, Delhi, 1995.
  • Guha, R. and Gadgil, ‘State Forestry and Social Conflict in British India’, Past and Present, vol. 123 (1989).
  • Guha, R., ‘An Early Environmental Debate in India: Making of the 1878 Forest Act’, in Indian Economic and Social History Review, (IESHR) vol. 27 (1990)
  • Guha, R., ‘Forestry in British and Post-British India: A Historical Analysis’, Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), Oct-Nov 1983.
  • Guha, R., The Unquiet Woods: Ecological Change and Peasant Resistance in the Himalaya, Permanent Black, Delhi, 2009 (20th year edition).
  • Habib, Irfan, Man and Environment, Tulika, 2011.
  • Moosvi, Shireen, People, Taxation and Trade in Mughal India, OUP, Delhi, 2008.
  • Rangarajan, Mahesh, India’s Wildlife History: An Introduction, Permanent Black, 2001.
  • Thaper, Romila, ‘Perceiving the Forests: Early India’, Studies in History (SIH), 17, 1 (2001)

Recommended Readings:

  • Agnihotri, Indu, ‘Ecology, Land Use and Colonization: The Canal Colonies of Punjab’, IESHR, 33, 1(1996).
  • Agrawal, Arun, Environmentality, OUP, Delhi, 2003.
  • Agrawal, Arun and K. Sivaramakrishnan, Social Nature: Resource, Representation and Rule in India, OUP. Delhi, 2001.
  • D’Souza, Rohan, Drowned and Dammed, OUP, Delhi, 2006.
  • Gadgil M. and R. Guha, Ecology and Equity, Penguin, 1995.
  • Grove, Richard, Vineeta Damodaran and Satpal Sangwan, eds, Nature and the Orient: Essays on Environmental History of South and Southeast Asia, OUP, Delhi, 1998.
  • Guha, R. and Juan Alier-Martinez, Varieties of Environmentalism, Earthscan, London, 1997.
  • Guha, R., ‘The authoritarian Biologist and the arrogance of anti-Humanism’, Ecologists, 1997, pp. 14-20.
  • Guha, Summit, Ethnicity and Environment in Western India, Cambridge University Press (CUP), 1999.
  • Khan, Shahmullah, ‘State of Vegetation and Agricultural Productivity: Pargana Haveli Ahmadabad’, SIH, 13, 2 (1998), pp. 313-24.
  • Kumar, Deepak et al, British Empire and Natural World, OUP, Delhi, 2010.
  • Mann, Michael, ‘Environmental History and Historiography on South Asia: Context and Some Recent Publications’, South Asia Chronicle, vol. 3 2013.
  • Prasad, Archana, ‘The Baiga: Survival Strategies and Local Economy in Colonial Central Provinces’, in SIH, 13, 2(1998), pp. 325-48.
  • Prasad, A., ed., Environment, Development and Society in Contemporary India, Macmillan, Delhi, 2008.
  • Prasher-Sen, Aloka ‘Of Tribes, Hunters and Barbarians: Forest Dwellers in Mauryan Period’, SIH, vol. 13, 2(1998), pp. 173-192.
  • Rajan, R, Modernizing Nature: Forestry and Imperial Eco-Development 1800-1950, Orient Longman, 2007.
  • Rangan, H., Of Myths and Movements: Rewriting Chipko in the Himalayan History, OUP, Delhi, 2001.
  • Rangarajan, Fencing the Forest: Conservation and Ecological Change in India’s Central Provinces, 1860-1914, OPU, Delhi, 1996.
  • Rangarajan, M. and Vasant Saberwal, eds, Battle over Nature, Permanent Black, 2006.
  • Rangarajan, M., Environmental Issues in India: A Reader, Pearson, Paperback, 2006
  • Rangarajan, M. and K. Sivaramakrishnan, India’s Environmental History, Permanent Black, Delhi, 2011.
  • Rangarajan, M, ‘The Raj and the natural world: The war against the ‘dangerous beast’ in colonial India’, SIH, 1998, pp 265-300.
  • Saikia, Aroopjyoti, Forest and Ecological History of Assam, OUP, Delhi, 2010.
  • Sengupta, Nirmal, ‘The Indigenous Irrigation Organisatio of South Bihar’, IESHR, 17, 2 (1980), pp. 157-89.
  • Sinha Kapur, Nandini, Environmental History of Early India, OUP, Delhi, 2011.
  • Sivaramakrishnan, K., Modern Forests: Statemaking and Environmental Change in Colonial Eastern India, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1999.
  • Sivaramakrishnan, K. and Gunnel Cederlof, Ecological Nationalism, Permanent Black, 2009.
  • Trivedi, K. K., ‘Estimating Forests, Waste and Fields, c. 1600’, SIH, 13, 2(1998), pp. 301-12.