Colonial Knowledge

Colonial knowledge enabled European colonizers to achieve domination across the globe. Scholars believe colonial conquest was made possible not just by the superior arms, military organisation, political power or economic wealth but also be ‘cultural technologies of rule’ (Nicholas Dirks).

Motivations of Warren Hastings

  • Wanted to end the ‘Dual Government’ system under Robert Clive and wanted to lay foundation of territorial rule over Bengal. But he wants not in favour of introducing English laws and English ways in India. He was in favour to rule the ‘conquered in their own way’.
  • Wanted to reconcile British rule with native Indian institutions. This meant more understanding about manners and customs, laws and literature of Indians.
  • Reconciling native traditions will make the British rule more acceptable to Indians and keep revolts away.

Asiatic Society of Bengal

  • Established under William Jones in 1784. Death of William Jones in 1794 left the institution in disarray.
  • Williams Jones was a judge of Supreme Court at Calcutta. He wanted to make India more intelligible to the British. For taking an organised effort towards this end, he formed Asiatic Society to unearth knowledge about Asia both within and outside Asia.
  • Asiatik Researches was the journal brought out by Asiatic Society.
  • William Jones acquired mastery of the Sanskrit language and literature. William Jones authored ‘A Digest of Hindu Law on Contract and Succession’. It was translated into English and published after his death by Henry Thomas Colebrook in 1796.
  • Charles Wilkins translated Bhagavad Gita.
  • Henry T. Colebrook, a renowned Orientalist scholar was the successor of William Jones. He was appointed professor of Sanskrit at Fort William in 1800. Colebrook studied the Vedas, placed them chronologically prior to Puranas and outlined the existence of monotheistic tradition in ancient India. His essay, published in Asiatick Researches, established the existence and authenticity of Vedas.

Law books

  • Warren Hastings judicial reforms resulted in Brahman Pandits giving different interpretations of local laws based on different schools of dharmashastra.
  • To bring about uniformity, 11 pandits compiled a digest of Hindu laws. N B Halhed translated this digest into English by the name of ‘A Code of Gentoo Laws’.
  • ‘Code of Gentoo Laws’ and ‘A Digest of Hindu Law on Contract and Succession’ emerged as two authoritative texts on Hindu law. Company government bore the entire cost of compilation and publication of these texts.

Surveyor General of Bengal

  • Office of Surveyor General of Bengal was established by Warren Hastings and appointed James Rennell was the first Surveyor General of Bengal in 1764.
  • Renell published the comprehensive book of ‘Map of Hindoostan’ which was the first authoritative mapping exercise on India. Sepoys and officials from British Army were engaged for this survey and mapping exercise by office of Surveyor General.


  • Fort William College contributed to emergence administrators-cum-scholars who induced significant changes in Indian society by applying their knowledge of India to administration.
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