A History of British India

Course No. 8431
Professor Hayden J. Bellenoit, D.Phil.
U.S. Naval Academy
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Course No. 8431
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Discover the transformative era of British India, and its world-changing legacy.
  • numbers Examine the monumental empire of the Mughals, the Islamic rulers of India and how they governed through military skill, administrative brilliance, and religious tolerance.
  • numbers Track the major changes in the economic relationship between Britain and India that contributed to the Great Uprising of 1857.
  • numbers Explore strains in the colonial relationship exposed by the war that made India ripe for the emergence of Mohandas Gandhi.
  • numbers Witness how Britain's wartime mobilization alienated the Indian National Congress and took a horrific toll on the Indian poor.

Course Overview

Shaped by its richly diverse cultural heritage and by immensely significant historical events, the Indian subcontinent holds a unique place in world civilization. Perhaps no era is more relevant to our understanding of how present-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh came to be than the nearly two centuries of British rule, beginning in 1757, during which India emerged as the most valuable colony of any empire in history. This was a period of seminal transformation and change—for the subcontinent, for Britain, and for the world.

In the 24 engrossing lectures of A History of British India, Professor Hayden J. Bellenoit of the U.S. Naval Academy, a highly respected expert on colonial India, leads you on a panoramic excursion into the history of British rule of the subcontinent and its repercussions. With a keen focus on the politics and economics of the period, Professor Bellenoit digs deeply into both the British and the Indian points of view, providing a wealth of information and insights that will be new to many in the West.

Professor Bellenoit shows the British conquest of India and its governance of the subcontinent to be one of the most compelling, dramatic, and colorful meetings of cultures in all of human history. Over the course of this extraordinary saga you’ll explore:

  • how the English East India Company, a commercial trading organization, established a foothold on the subcontinent and took the reins of governance in one of the most unusual political transformations the world has ever seen;
  • how the mighty Mughal Empire, builders of the Taj Mahal and longstanding Muslim rulers of large swaths of India, gradually unraveled in the face of British conquest;
  • how Britain greatly extended its rule across the subcontinent, built a massive economic machine in India, and ultimately exacted a heavy price from the Indian populace; and
  • how India finally achieved independence in 1947, through one of humanity’s most remarkable examples of resourceful and philosophically sophisticated leadership.

Professor Bellenoit brings into relief the motives of the British throughout their long stay in India, the moral hypocrisy of the Raj, and the sometimes devastating effects of Raj policy on British Indian subjects. A History of British India offers a revealing look at how the modern nations of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh emerged from the crucible of the Raj, and it examines the long-term effects of British rule on regional politics, religion, culture, economics, race relations, and more.

This account of the British encounter with India will enlighten your perspectives on European imperialism, world economic history, the specific features of British colonialism, and the rich and dynamic cultures of South Asia.

The astonishing narrative of A History of British India sheds new light on a region that is home to nearly a quarter of the planet’s total population, as well as two nuclear powers, the world’s largest democracy, and the second-, third-, and fourth- largest Muslim nations. Given how South Asia’s importance in the 21st century world is only increasing, this is a history we all need to know.

An Epic Story of Empire and Dissent

In the course of the lectures, you’ll study core topics that bring the story of British India alive in all its drama, complexity, and poignancy, such as

  • The British Conquest of India—Discover how the East India Company, having metamorphosed into a political entity in Bengal, expanded its territorial power through military actions and power-brokering; examine how the Company co-opted the Mughal revenue and administrative system and governed India for the first 100 years of British rule.
  • The Great Uprising: 1857—Witness the attempts of the British colonials and evangelical Christians to “reform” India along European lines; track the growing economic, political, and cultural resentments against the East India Company that culminated in the Great Uprising of 1857 and the resulting shift to direct rule of India by the British crown;
  • Economics under the Raj—Take a penetrating look at how the colonial economy functioned, and how British rule refashioned India’s role in the global economy into one serving Britain and its imperial interests; grasp how British economic policy benefited certain classes of Indians while causing great hardship and tragedy for others;
  • The Advent of Indian Nationalism—Observe how both Hindu and Muslim identity were affected by the Raj, and how both became linked with conflicting notions of Indian nationhood; study the remarkable story of how Indian nationalism emerged through the efforts of English-educated Indians, and how nationalist action increased through the late 19th century;
  • Gandhi, Jinnah, and the Struggle for Independence—Follow the quest for independence undertaken by the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League; explore the brilliance and sophistication of Gandhi’s political philosophy, which exposed moral faults in the Raj, the shrewd maneuvering of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and how they reorganized the nationalist cause into mass movements;
  • The Birth of Modern India—Relive the events of the Noncooperation, Civil Disobedience, and Quit India movements, the escalating calls for independence, and the simmering Hindu-Muslim violence that shaped the partition of British India into the nations of India and Pakistan.

A Transformative Encounter between West and East

Throughout this course, you’ll delve deeply into fascinating and illuminating cultural features of the British rule in India. Early in the course, you’ll trace the economic motives that brought the British and other Europeans to India—where, in the 18th century, one quarter of the world’s commerce passed through the subcontinent, and where a single Bengali family had holdings larger than the Bank of England.

You’ll learn about British Orientalism, the colonials’ studied effort to “know the country” in order to effectively govern it, and how their tendency to traditionalize and romanticize India had consequences for both policy and the well-being of Indians. And you’ll observe how, under the Muslim-ruled Mughal Empire, there was very little Hindu-Muslim religious conflict in 18th-century India, and how over time British policies distanced and polarized the two cultures.

Among other intriguing subtopics, Professor Bellenoit reveals how the emergence of Britain as a tea-drinking culture was directly linked to the economy of colonial India, as tea became a crucial commodity in the fiscal maneuvering of the East India Company. And he brings into focus the lavish lifestyles of India’s royals—one Nizam of Hyderabad maintained over 200 wives and concubines—and how the British cultivated ties with regional Indian princes as a means of undergirding the Raj’s power and authority.

Again and again, you’ll assess the fundamental contradiction that underlay both the English East India Company and the British Raj: the conflict between Britain’s economic interests and its obligations as the political sovereign of the Indian populace.

An Unforgettable Historical Journey

Professor Bellenoit breathes life into the events of British rule, combining a talent for communicating the broader patterns of history with dramatic storytelling, in a detailed, gripping account of this world-changing epoch. Illustrative maps, graphics, portraits, photographs, and artwork greatly enrich the video version of the course. In the dynamic and revelatory lectures of A History of British India, you’ll relive a crucial era in international relations, one with deep and enduring implications for our contemporary world.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Introduction to India
    Delve into core aspects of Indian culture that provide a rich background for the story of British rule. Grasp the key precepts of Hinduism, and the notions of dharma, karma, and samsara. Study the caste system, the features of Indian families and marriages, and explore how society and religion shape politics in India. x
  • 2
    The Mughal Empire in 18th-Century India
    Examine the monumental empire of the Mughals, the Islamic rulers of India. Investigate how the Mughals governed through military skill, administrative brilliance, and religious tolerance. Look at the state of Indian society in the 18th century, and how changes in Mughal politics and economics laid the foundation for the British conquest of India. x
  • 3
    Indian and British Economic Interests
    Here, explore further how the Indian subcontinent drifted toward colonialism. Observe how the regionalization" of the Mughal Empire compromised the emperors' ability to govern. Take account of India's prominence within the broader global economy, and chart the rise of powerful banking families who played a critical role in the emergence of British rule." x
  • 4
    British Expansion in India (1757-1820)
    Witness how the English East India Company, a trading organization, expanded its early footing in Bengal. Study the Company's extraordinary transformation, through military conquests, from a merchant venture into a political entity. Finally, follow the Company's expansion into other regions, employing the Mughal revenue system to tax India's agrarian countryside. x
  • 5
    Knowing the Country: British Orientalism
    Learn how British scholars and administrators pursued knowledge of Indian culture, and how the early British colonials adapted to living within Indian society. Grasp the ways in which British romanticizing of India and misunderstanding of traditional customs had major consequences for colonial policy and the well-being of the Indian populace. x
  • 6
    Race, Gender, and Culture (1750-1850)
    The opening up of India gave rise to a discourse on race that became central to the colonial relationship. Study British racial paradigms in Company-ruled India, which emphasized differences between Indians and the British to justify" colonial rule. Also explore the British notion of masculinity and how it bolstered their self-perception as colonial masters." x
  • 7
    The Age of Reform (1830-1850)
    Contemporary currents of thought in England affected the ways in which India was governed. Learn how utilitarianism and Christian evangelicalism undergirded attempts by the British to educate and "reform" India. Track the major changes in the economic relationship between Britain and India that contributed to the Great Uprising of 1857. x
  • 8
    The Great Uprising (1857-1858)
    Study the accumulation of religious, economic, and political grievances against the East India Company that set the stage for the Great Uprising of 1857. Then witness the outbreak and bloody unfolding of the Uprising itself. Observe how the mutiny" changed British attitudes toward India, and the way Britain governed it under the Raj." x
  • 9
    Economics and Society under the Raj
    Examine the nature of the colonial economy, and trace economic decisions by the British that constrained the livelihoods of artisans and peasants. Assess the Raj's fiscal policy, which privileged British interests over public works. Observe how these policies affected the lives of millions who toiled to produce the wealth of the Raj. x
  • 10
    Caste and Tribal Identity under Colonialism
    As a social institution, caste changed markedly under British colonial rule. First, examine how the British encountered caste and tried to understand it. Then see how caste became significantly linked with the colonial tax revenue system. Take account of the ways in which caste distinctions became more prominent, codified, and pervasive under colonialism. x
  • 11
    The Nationalization of Hinduism (1870-1900)
    Discover how the broader traditions of Hinduism were affected by the colonial experience. Examine the theological assault on Hinduism by European Christian missionaries, and the responses of high-caste Hindus. Look at important Hindu reform movements, which sought to modernize Hinduism, and grasp how key currents of reformist thinking linked Hinduism with Indian nationhood. x
  • 12
    Indian Muslim Identity and Colonial Rule
    Indian Islam underwent profound shifts under colonial rule. Investigate how the British codifying of Islamic law changed Indian Muslims' communal identity. See how the advent of English language and education, and the Indian census, distanced Muslims from Hindus. Lastly, assess how the Deobandi reform movement reinvented Indian Islam to ensure its survival. x
  • 13
    The Late-19th-Century British Raj
    Study British racial attitudes toward Indians in the late 19th century and how these conceptions were manifested in the way India was governed. Learn about the officials who administrated the Raj, the Indian Civil Service, and the modernization of India. Grasp how all of these elements reflect the mindset of the British Raj. x
  • 14
    Princely States and Royalist Relationships
    India's princely states played a crucial role in maintaining British power. Examine the history of the princely kingdoms, and why they remained separate from British-controlled territory. Follow how the British cultivated ties of loyalty with Indian princes and exerted indirect rule." Explore the contradiction of a modernizing British Raj that supported feudal princes." x
  • 15
    Indian Nationalism and the Freedom Struggle
    Analyze how a new generation of English-educated Indians spearheaded Indian nationalism. Trace the emergence of the Indian National Congress, which initially represented moderate nationalists, and observe how repressive British policies sowed anticolonial sentiment. Witness the strengthening of nationalist fervor, as it erupted into political extremism and violence in the early 20th century. x
  • 16
    The Great War and Its Impact on India
    Examine the severe effects of the First World War on India's economy. Learn how both moderate and radical nationalists responded to the war to press for concessions and independence. Explore strains in the colonial relationship exposed by the war that made India ripe for the emergence of Mohandas Gandhi. x
  • 17
    Gandhi's Moral-Political Philosophy
    Investigate Gandhi's early life and how he became a nationalist leader. Study the elements of his political philosophy, the political tools of ahimsa (no harm) and satyagraha (force of truth), and the forces of modernity and British rule that Gandhi critiqued. Finally, examine the 1919 event that thrust him onto the national stage. x
  • 18
    The Noncooperation Movement
    Observe how Gandhi reorganized the Indian National Congress into a mass political machine, as witnessed in the Noncooperation Movement, where Indians boycotted the British on a national scale. Note how these actions and others exposed moral faults in the Raj, and track the Raj's counterstrategies that attempted to marginalize those nationalists seeking independence. x
  • 19
    Indian Muslim Politics between the Wars
    Indian Muslim identity began to change in important ways in the 20th century. Study the impact on Indian Muslims of the First World War, and the resulting Muslim Khalifat Movement, which opposed Britain's war aims against the Ottoman Caliphate. See how Hindu/Muslim religious-political rivalries gave birth to the idea of Pakistan. x
  • 20
    The Civil Disobedience Campaign
    Now examine the second round" of Indian nationalist action against the British Raj. Witness the effects on India of the global economic depression after 1929, which triggered the Civil Disobedience Campaign, a massive boycotting of British goods, services, and institutions. Assess the Raj's countertactic of extending constitutional concessions to stem nationalist agitation." x
  • 21
    Britain and Its Empire in the 1940s
    Witness how Britain's wartime mobilization alienated the Indian National Congress and took a horrific toll on the Indian poor. Study the resulting Quit India Movement, the largest uprising against the British since 1857, and the events of the war's aftermath that set the stage for the end of 200 years of colonial rule. x
  • 22
    The Raj on Its Knees (1945-1947)
    Investigate the increasing levels of dissent, mutiny, and agrarian suffering and unrest that followed World War II. Chart the astonishing rise of the Muslim League after 1940, its presence in the negotiations for independence, and the League's actions in key provinces that sparked terrible communal violence in the Raj's final days. x
  • 23
    A Split India: Negotiating Independence
    Examine the factors in Britain's decision to quit" India. Take account of the final negotiations between the National Congress, the Muslim League, and the British, noting the contrasting visions of an independent India held by the Congress and the League. Grasp how Hindu-Muslim violence affected the ultimate partition of India and Pakistan." x
  • 24
    Reflections on Postcolonial India
    Learn about the harrowing events following Partition, which saw widespread killings and the largest displacement of human populations in history. Assess what the events of 1947 meant for the Indian National Congress, Pakistanis, and the British. Finally, reflect on the lasting legacy of the British Raj and its rule of India. x

Lecture Titles

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What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Instant Video Includes:
  • Download 24 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
Instant Audio Includes:
  • Download 24 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 240-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 240-page printed course guidebook
  • Illustrations and photographs
  • Questions to consider
  • Suggested reading

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Your professor

Hayden J. Bellenoit

About Your Professor

Hayden J. Bellenoit, D.Phil.
U.S. Naval Academy
Hayden J. Bellenoit is an Associate Professor of History at the U.S. Naval Academy. After graduating summa cum laude in History and Economics from Wheaton College, he attended Oxford University, where he completed his master of studies in Historical Research and his doctor of philosophy in Modern History, focusing on late colonial India. While studying at Oxford, Dr. Bellenoit spent a year in India conducting research in...
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A History of British India is rated 3.7 out of 5 by 61.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant, Exceptional, and Comprehensive In this course, Professor Hayden J. Bellenoit imparts a comprehensive, erudite, balanced history of the Indian subcontinent (Indian, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) from the time it was colonized (and just prior) by imperial Britain until its independence in 1947. Professor Bellenoit covers not just critical matters of politics and requisite subjects chronology and biographies, but also critical forces of economics, religion, culture (of both the Indians and the British), language, and ethnography. So enlightening and invigorating is this course that after you complete it and read some of the recommended books, you will come to realize the course itself left no subject unexplored and left no controversy undisturbed. If I am forced to offer a negative critique, I would offer only that he didn't touch on Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Perhaps he didn't cover it because of its irrelevance to the specific breadth of this course. All told, get his course for a compendium of instructive lessons on not just Indian and imperial Britain history, but also for lessons of life and cultures and human nature, and even on the world that we live in today. You may supplement your lesson by taking the other course on Indian history ( "A History of India"), which covers India in general, but doesn't cover much of India's history under imperial Britain.
Date published: 2020-11-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 200 Years in 12 Hours This is one of the best online courses that I have ever taken and I do take a number of online classes. Professor Bellenoit has a through understanding of the subject matter and he delivers it eloquently, concisely and succinctly.
Date published: 2020-10-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Solid Introspective into Cultural Context of Perio I have to admit I am surprised by the number of negative reviews for this course. Sure Professor Bellenoit paints every British action during its rule of India as repressive and immoral even though we know that simply can't be the truth. But is he really that far off? And yes, his frequent use of rhetorical questions throughout the lectures was so overbearing I almost gave up early on. There was only one thing worse than his repeated use of questions to the audience such as “Why did…?”, “How did…?”, and “Why would…?” and it was this: he actually would ANSWER with responses such as “You got it” or “Correct” or “You guessed it” or “Think about it”. I remain stunned that someone didn't bring this to his attention and advocate for a change in style before releasing this series to the public. It was like he wanted to be a game show host or something: at times asking condescendingly childish questions like we were 7 year olds and at other times asking more difficult questions and still assuming we had responded at home exactly as he would for an answer. SIGH. Similarly, his usual conclusion to a lecture with the statement “We’ve covered a great deal in this lecture” grew stale. And his enmity towards Muhammad Ali Jinnah is clear and obvious and while he is probably correct about a lot of his shortcomings and questionable behavior and that a lot of the horror resulting from partition may've been avoided if the Muslim League hadn't changed its tactics to be more aggressive in the 1940's, I still would’ve expected at least a little bit of balanced coverage/telling of the other side of the story vs. a clearly subjective approach. Still don't let all of the negative reviews sway you if you are on the fence. This was a very solid and introspective course. Professor Bellenoit covered the social, economic, and cultural aspects of the time period very well excelling at explaining how three distinct populations interacted and coexisted in India: the British, Hindu Indians, and Muslim Indians. He didn't just relate history but provided enlightening introspective into the social, economic, and cultural contexts that explains some of the big picture questions relating to this subject and time period; For example he would explain the social, cultural, and political reasons for why the British were were successful in taking control of India, why the Indian princes worked with the British, why Britain didn’t take direct rule of areas, why Indian Nationalism arose when it did, etc. Providing this context really helped in contemplating the greater picture of this subject/time period vs. just listening to a series of events. This is the bellwether of a Great Course taking its content to the next level vs. an average history course reciting events. Lecture 23 was fascinating to listen to. The negotiations between the British, the Indian National Congress, and the Muslim League on what an independent India would look like when the British departed was high drama and the resulting partition into India and Pakistan represented a bittersweet achievement of the long-sought for independence. When I am debating about whether I should invest my time in a course I first check out the negative reviews on TGC. Typically if I observe a common theme among the reviewers and it falls into my personal pet peeves about a course then I make up my mind at that point not to proceed. Listening to a Great Course is a significant time investment and we all know how valuable time is. In this case I am glad I didn't do the "typical" thing but instead gave this course a shot. Yes, the professor has "ticks" that can make you nauseated and on the verge of wanting to yell at him to drop the rhetorical questions. But he also provides some really interesting perspective and explanations to big themes that are not always found in other courses. He deserves applause for this. I felt like this course was definitely worth my time and would recommend it to anyone interested in the topic.
Date published: 2020-10-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Title describes subect matter. I have purchased several great courses (60+). About 2/3rds of these are history courses. In most cases I would say that the professor presents the material in a pretty straight forward, unbiased manner. Can't say that that is the feeling I get with this course. In, fact, I had to take a break after lecture 9 (of 24) to do some outside reading. At least 3 of the great courses I have taken have covered this period of Indian/British history (though not as their exclusive subject matter). The other courses do not paint nearly as bleak a picture of British India. Professor Bellenoit does not have a positive thing to say about British India. In fact he seems to go to some lengths to paint a negative picture. I don't think you can take history out of context, or, apply current sensibilities to past eras. I think that's the problem I'm having with this course. With that said I did do give the course, so far, an average rating. Professor Bellenoit does present the material in an understandable manner and does express his point of view well. I do plan to finish the course after a break.
Date published: 2020-05-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A History of British India I am now half way through the course, and I am deeply impressed by it. Prof. Hayden J, Bellenoit 's scholarly review of the history and culture of India before the British inroads in it is succinct, but very informative. However, it is the step by step analysis of the evolution of the British Raj which started a modest commercial venture and morphed into an truly odious imperialistic venture which makes this course great. Prof Bellenoit is an engaging speaker and an excellent presenter. It was said many times that there is no truly objective history. Every historian interprets the past through the prism of the time she/he lives in, and her/his personal inclinations. Prof Bellenoit's presentation is no exception to it. His is certainly an engaged presentation, and I see it as its forte. His description of the ruthless British colonialism celebrated at home as one of the greatest achievements of civilization is solidly founded on countless hard data. I do not have slightest reservation to fully recommend this course.
Date published: 2020-05-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful course I am especially interested in the history of India during the British Raj and this course was simply amazing. Delivered by a very good teacher and scholar, the material was accurate and overall, excellent. In summary, I really enjoyed every minute and would highly recommend it to anyone who would like to learn about this period - a period that is not only interesting for anyone interested in history, but also one that has a huge impact on contemporary India and South Asia, in general.
Date published: 2020-05-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Graduate assistant lecture This lecturer sounds like a junior academic sucking up to thesis adviser, with all the chrono-centric obsessions on race and class that are hallmarks of American faculty. The result here is a monotonous harping on the racism of the British, and sweeping subjective historical generalizations. This gets very irritating when combined with the lecturer's condescending Socratic question-and-answer. "Now do parents let children ask questions? Of course not, and neither did the British." But the subject is very interesting, a departure from Western focused history. If the lecturer could find some humility, and maybe real questioning of his micro-cultural masters, he could improve. Maybe a refresher with R.G. Collingwood's Idea of History.
Date published: 2020-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent overview This course does justice to the horrors of British imperialism that ended in partition. When I bought this course, I thought it would probably be just another narrative about “enlightened despotism”, written from a largely Western perspective. I am glad that it did not turn out that way and it was worth watching all the lectures. It is a very balanced and unbiased account of the Raj, that many Indians like me can also relate to. More visuals would have made this course even better. I hope Professor Bellenoit makes many more courses about India in the near future. Some suggestions are: 1. Contemporary India; 2. The Bengal Famine (1943); 3. The History of the Bengal region (West Bengal & Bangladesh); 4. Inequality in Modern India; etc. This is really a “great course” and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in India. Thank you, “The Great Courses” and thank you Professor Bellenoit.
Date published: 2020-04-19
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