Final Public Oral Exam: Christina Welsch
The Sons of Mars and the Heirs of Rustam: Military Ideology, Ambition, and Rebellion in South India (1746-1812)
The British East India Company famously ruled India "by the Sword." This dissertation is a study of that metaphorical blade, focused on the European and Indian officer corps—distinct and unequal bodies—that commanded the Company's forces. Existing scholarship on the Company's armies has examined them principally as tools or as sites of colonial power, through which administrative policies were enacted. This project explores how officers within that military shaped the Company's political development in its most rapid period of expansion. Throughout the eighteenth century, interactions between European officers, their Indian counterparts, and civil authorities shaped the Company's growth. Ultimately, they would reframe the Company's own governing structures, giving European military officers dominance over civil officials.
This project focuses specifically on the Madraw Presidency, the Company's southernmost administration and the first to establish a formal field army. Chapters alternate between Indian and European officers, centering on moments when military actors' interests came into conflict with civil expectations. The chapters show how officers pursued personal ambitions by negotiating between the Company's hierarchies and broader networks in India and in Britain.
Their maneuvers in turn reshaped the Company's relationships with these bodies. At times, this was intentional, European officers, for instance, pushed the Compnay into new diplomatic alliances to open up avenues for patronage. Sometimes, the outcome was unexpected, as when the desertion of Indian officers to Hyderabad pushed administrators to annex the previously autonomous state. To trace these disparate networks, the dissertation draws together the Company's military archives, private correspondence, and records from Indian states.
Indian and European officers' disputes form an entangled story. By the early nineteenth century, European officers successfully exploited Britons' growing anxieties of Indian soldiers' disloyalty to claim a new primacy in the colonial state, largely eclipsing civilian power. By connecting this new authority to the officer corps' eighteenth-century negotiations, the project contextualizes the Company's nineteenth-cetury militarism within a longer history of individual agency and institutional development. European officers' claims equally foreshadowed the future, when in 1957 their perceived failure to check Indian soldiers' ambitions paved the way for the Company's collapse.
A copy of the dissertation will be available for review one week before the exam in the History Graduate Student Lounge: 105 Dickinson Hall.
All are welcome and encouraged to attend.