Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

4 - The Range of the River: A New Spatial Scale Across Northeastern India and Mainland Southeast Asia, 1850-1950

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: Maryland Suite C, Lobby Level

This paper aims to contribute to the recent conversations on larger scales in historical studies from the vantage point of environmental history. Focusing on the mainland Southeast Asia and Northeastern South Asia it examines the ways in which the rivers of the regions led to new openings for transregional engagements. While the rivers both frustrated and facilitated the forces of the British and the French empires, these also presented the empire with a large-scale eco-spatial contour which was different from those shaped by the river systems of other regions of India and China. In the arid or semi-arid regions in northern China or northern India river systems were vulnerable to large and complex irrigation projects under demanding imperial politics and bureaucracies; but the rivers of the mainland Southeast Asia and Northeastern India—including Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Salween, Mekong and middle Yangtze—generated more gravity towards transregional commercial and cultural connections across Bengal, Assam, Myanmar, Tibet, Yunnan and Sichuan. Until the cartographic constructions of postcolonial states throttled such transregional engagements, ideas and practices of such inter-Asian connections continued to be animated by these rivers, even after the arrival of the railways. The paper argues that these rivers, by inspiring imaginations and practices with regard to the making of a large scale eco-space beyond ‘mainland’ India and ‘mainland’ China, provided ample ingredients with which to question the later geopolitical formulations of ‘South’ or ‘Southeast’ Asia.

Iftekhar Iqbal

Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Brunei and Muara, Brunei

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4 - The Range of the River: A New Spatial Scale Across Northeastern India and Mainland Southeast Asia, 1850-1950



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