Essays of a Lifetime

Reformers, Nationalists, Subalterns

By Sumit Sarkar

Subjects: India And South Asian Studies, Hindu Studies, Social And Cultural History, History
Series: SUNY series in Hindu Studies
Hardcover : 9781438474311, 666 pages, January 2019
Paperback : 9781438474328, 666 pages, January 2020

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Table of contents

Preface and Acknowledgements
Part I. Bhakti and Samaj: Social Reform and Religious Modernity

1. Rammohun Roy and the Break with the Past

2. The Complexities of “Young Bengal”

3. The Pattern and Structure of Early Nationalist Activity in Bengal

4. The Radicalism of Intellectuals: A Case Study of Nineteenth-Century Bengal

5. One or Many Histories? Identity Formations in Late-Colonial Bengal

6. Kaliyuga, Chakri, and Bhakti: Ramakrishna and His Times

7. Vidyasagar and Brahmanical Society

8. The Kalki-Avatar of Bikrampur: A Village Scandal in Early-Twentieth-Century Bengal
Part II. Nationalists and Subalterns

9. Nationalism: Ideology and Mobilisation

10. The Conditions and Nature of Subaltern Militancy: Bengal from Swadeshi to Non-Cooperation, c. 1905–1922

11. Primitive Rebellion and Modern Nationalism: Forest Satyagraha in the Non-Cooperation and Civil Disobedience Movements

12. The Logic of Gandhian Nationalism: Civil Disobedience and the Gandhi–Irwin Pact 1930–1931

13. Popular Movements and National Leadership 1945–1947

14. The Return of Labour to South Asian History
Part III. Tributes

15. Thinking about P. C. Joshi

16. Edward Thompson

17. In Memory of Eric Hobsbawm

A distillation of the historian’s finest writings on modern Indian historical themes.


For the past forty years or more, the most influential, respected, and popular scholar of modern Indian history has been Sumit Sarkar. When his first monograph, The Swadeshi Movement in Bengal 1903–1908, appeared in 1973 it soon became obvious that the book represented a paradigm shift within its genre. As Dipesh Chakrabarty put it when the work was republished in 2010: "Very few monographs, if any, have ever rivalled the meticulous research and the thick description that characterized this book, or the lucidity of its exposition and the persuasive power of its overall argument. "

Ten years later, Sarkar published Modern India 1885–1947, a textbook for advanced students and teachers. Its synthesis and critique of everything significant that had been written about the period was seen as monumental, lucid, and the fashioning of a new way of looking at colonialism and nationalism.

Sarkar, however, changed the face not only of modern Indian history monographs and textbooks, he also radically altered the capacity of the historical essay. As Beethoven stretched the sonata form beyond earlier conceivable limits, Sarkar can be said to have expanded the academic essay. In his hands, the shorter form becomes in miniature both monograph and textbook.

The present collection, which reproduces many of Sarkar's finest writings, shows an intellectually scintillating, skeptical-Marxist mind at its sharpest.

Sumit Sarkar is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Delhi in India.


"…here we see Sarkar grappling with his intellectual heritage, negotiating his own location within the new Marxist nationalist history of the period. Working within its frame, he pushes at the boundaries, disturbing neat classificatory schemes, resisting false historical comparisons, problematizing categories, and questioning linear narratives. The desire to explore contrary experiences and contradictory pictures is part of his process of questioning. " — Neeladri Bhattacharya