Modern Asian Studies


Economic Change and the Railways in North India, 1860–1914

I. D. Derbyshirea1

a1 University of Cambridge

M. D. Morris re-opened the debate on late nineteenth-century Indian economic history with a brace of powerful, though conjectural, revisionist articles in 1963 and 1966. He questioned the then prevailing orthodoxy which viewed the late nineteenth century as a period of increasing population pressure on the land (exacerbated by the atrophy of handicraft production), of holding fragmentation, declining per capita food availability, and inimical commercialization of agriculture. This interpretation had seen the position of a narrow mercantile and creditor elite improving, but the position of the mass of the rural population deteriorating, as evidenced by the terrible famines of 1876–80 and 1896–1900. Morris, influenced by D. Kumar's findings, contended that pressure on the soil did not increase excessively; that the influx of imported cloths merely skimmed off the broader increase in textile demand; and that agricultural output per capita increased as a result of extensions to the cropped area, political peace, growing regional specialization, and the increased sowing of valuable, high yielding cash crops.