Empire’s Metropolis: Money, Time & Space in Colonial Bombay

This is a summary and chapter outline of my first book manuscript, based on my doctoral dissertation research in the Program in Science Technology & Society (STS), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) submitted in late 2013 and developed as a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Asia Research Institute (ARI), National University of Singapore (NUS), 2016-17.

Empire’s Metropolis: Money, Time & Space in Colonial Bombay is a social history of technology and urbanisation in the “commercial capital” of modern India. It spans the period from Bombay’s first boom and bust during the American Civil War – when the city emerged as a gateway for the global cotton trade – to its rise into one of Asia’s largest industrial centres following World War I.

The principal sources for this historical study are newly opened municipal archives and private papers that chronicle the growth of the colonial port city from the 1860s to 1920s. Six interlocking themes and periods are explored in chronological chapters on the history of share trading and merchant banking; railway, shipping and telegraph infrastructures; urban land acquisition and valuation; clocks and time-keeping; cadastral surveying and property rights; and the place of street networks in the city’s built environment.

Modern Bombay developed within and against empire. Imperial hegemony was often most insecure in this metropolitan seat of command and control, even as external trade and factory industry fuelled the city’s rapid expansion. Attempts to impose modern practices of commodity exchange, standard time, market value and private property were neither taken for granted, nor simply resisted or rejected. Neither “urbanisation” nor “industrialisation” unfolded smoothly, as elite strategies and mass struggles over finance, labour and land shaped the paths of technological and social change.

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