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William Tolly and His Canal: 18th Century Calcutta and the Complexities of Industrialization

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In this podcast, our host Philip Gooding interviews Professor Kaustubh Mani Sengupta (Bankura University, West Bengal, India) on his recent article published in the fifth volume of the Journal of Indian Ocean World Studies (JIOWS), entitled “William Tolly and His Canal: Navigating Calcutta in the Late-Eighteenth Century.” Specifically, Prof. Sengupta elaborates on the making of one particularly arduous canal in Calcutta, connecting the port city of Bengal with the eastern districts of the province for better trade and communication. This massive undertaking, headed by a serving officer of the East India Company (EIC), Major Tolly, revealed the material, political, and economic complexities of industrialization in early British India. In addition to discussing the general inefficiency of the Company and its young British servants, Prof. Sengupta advances the environmental history of the region by discussing how canal-building introduced significant shifts in how surrounding populations interacted with their natural environment. Going forward, Prof. Sengupta hopes to apply an enhanced environmental perspective to his ongoing research on Calcutta industrialization, water systems, and sanitation epidemics.

“A Perspective View of Fort William” by Jan Van Ryne, 1754, via Wikipedia Commons.

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This podcast was produced with the help of Renée Manderville (Project Manager, IOWC), Archisman Chaudhuri and Philip Gooding (both postdoctoral fellows, IOWC, McGill).