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The informational fabric of eighteenth-century India and the Middle East: couriers, intermediaries and postal communication

Sood, Gagan (2009) The informational fabric of eighteenth-century India and the Middle East: couriers, intermediaries and postal communication. Modern Asian Studies, 43 (05). pp. 1085-1116. ISSN 0026-749X

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Identification Number: 10.1017/S0026749X08003818


Mundane knowledge of how information flows is essential for a proper understanding of large organisations and complex activities. It gives us valuable insights into the prevailing constraints of the era and the creative responses that enabled the demands of its cosmopolitan residents to be met. Though the sinews of communication have been a major topic of historical inquiry in recent decades, the focus has been decidedly uneven; much of the attention has been directed towards modern times and, for earlier periods, has been confined almost entirely to Europe, the western European empires and those sectors of the world's political economy in which Europeans had a stake. The rest of the world, in comparison, has been neglected, which may be seen clearly in the case of early modern India and the Middle East. This paper seeks to rectify the imbalance by offering a typology for making sense of how packages of low weight and high value were collected, transported and delivered over long distances within the region in the eighteenth century. While drawing on a wide range of sources, at the core of this analysis lies the correspondence of the headmen of a group—the Aiyangar pattamars—who specialised as couriers in pre-colonial southern India. Among the principal claims set forth are that there existed in this period two basic modes of private communication: in one, personal trust was paramount, in the other, the mode was effectively monopolised by recognised communities providing the necessary informational services within their cultural domain. These claims, if sustained, have major implications for current views on early modern India and the Middle East.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2009 Cambridge University Press
Divisions: International History
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DS Asia
Date Deposited: 04 Oct 2013 13:46
Last Modified: 20 Sep 2021 02:44

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