A History of British India

Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the finest Great Courses! This is a fantastic course on the cultural history of British rule in India. I admit, I'm biased, I much prefer cultural history to "traditional" history - I get more out of it. Instead of meticulously detailing every event and actor from British arrival to Indian independence, Bellenoit offers highly insightful analysis of the cultural transformations that took place during this time, mostly regarding how the British influenced India, but also to a lesser degree how India and Indians affected the British. A few examples of the things you will learn during this course: How British commercial and political interests in understanding law in India were based on cultural misunderstandings and led to a codification of written, religious dogma as law, which upended more flexible custom-based systems; how race theories and notions of gender affected cultural understandings and "justified" British rule up until WWII; how British notions of class influenced Indian society; how the Kama Sutra came to be known as a sex manual due to British interpretations and emphasis, when the Kama Sutra itself is mostly focused on other topics. You will also learn about Gandhi's political thought and, of course, the callous mismanagement of Indian society by the British. Those who have given this course a low score seem to have been looking forward to a more traditional history -- if that's your cup of tea, you won't find that here. I suggest e.g. William Dalrymple's book The Anarchy, which offers an exhaustive, traditionalist history of the East India Company's exploits and eventual rule in India. If you're looking for a "balanced" story in which the British did well by Indians, there is no such story to be told, and you will simply have to accept the fact that the British, like other colonial powers, committed terrible, inexcusable crimes.
Date published: 2021-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Survey of British India I just completed this course and I found it to be illuminating and fascinating. It certainly filled a key gap in my knowledge and helps to put more recent events involving India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh into context.
Date published: 2021-01-01
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Horrid A wearisome, unremitting diatribe against the British, as to be expected, sadly, from the very model of a modern professor! His delivery is poor: he obviously reads word for word from a teleprompter instead of lecturing from notes. Not much imagery beyond a bombastic set. My wife and I gave up after about 10 lectures.
Date published: 2020-12-29
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 Wellesley/Wellington There is a serious error where Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington is described as a Governor-General of India. His portrait is also shown. The Governor-General at this time was actually his brother, Richard Wellington, Earl of Mornington. During 1797-1804 Arthur Wellesley expanded the territories of the East India Company and was briefly Governor of Mysore, but was never Governor-General. Sor far, the course has otherwise been an entertaining introduction to the subject.
Date published: 2020-10-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent and Enthusiastic Professor I thoroughly enjoyed this course. I especially liked the teaching technique of setting up the points to be covered at the beginning of each lecture...and at the end, to review those points.
Date published: 2020-10-24
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
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A History of British India
Course Trailer
Introduction to India
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.

33 min
The Mughal Empire in 18th-Century India
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.

33 min
Indian and British Economic Interests
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.

32 min
British Expansion in India (1757-1820)
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.

29 min
Knowing the Country: British Orientalism
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.

31 min
Race, Gender, and Culture (1750-1850)
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.

31 min
The Age of Reform (1830-1850)
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....

30 min
The Great Uprising (1857-1858)
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....

28 min
Economics and Society under the Raj
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....

30 min
Caste and Tribal Identity under Colonialism
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....

29 min
The Nationalization of Hinduism (1870-1900)
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....

32 min
Indian Muslim Identity and Colonial Rule
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....

31 min
The Late-19th-Century British Raj
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....

30 min
Princely States and Royalist Relationships
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....

30 min
Indian Nationalism and the Freedom Struggle
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....

32 min
The Great War and Its Impact on India
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....

30 min
Gandhi's Moral-Political Philosophy
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....

30 min
The Noncooperation Movement
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....

32 min
Indian Muslim Politics between the Wars
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....

30 min
The Civil Disobedience Campaign
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....

33 min
Britain and Its Empire in the 1940s
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....

31 min
The Raj on Its Knees (1945-1947)
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....

30 min
A Split India: Negotiating Independence
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....

31 min
Reflections on Postcolonial India
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....

31 min
Hayden J. Bellenoit

The human experience is inevitably complex and defies any simple question, category, solution, theory, or understanding.


Oxford University


U.S. Naval Academy

About Hayden J. Bellenoit

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 Delhi, Lucknow, and Allahabad. At the Naval Academy, Dr. Bellenoit offered the academy's first courses on the history of India from 1700 to the present, the history of Islam and the origins of jihad in South Asia, the history of Pakistan, the premodern history of Asia, and the history of the Mughal Empire. Dr. Bellenoit has researched and published extensively on modern Indian religious, social, and cultural history. His first book was Missionary Education and Empire in Late Colonial India, 1860-1920. He also has had peer-reviewed articles published in journals and edited volumes, including "Education, Missionaries and the Indian Nation, c. 1880-1920" and "Missionary Education, Religion and Knowledge in India, c. 1880-1915." Dr. Bellenoit's second book is The Formation of the Colonial State in India: Scribes, Paper and Taxes, 1760-1860. He is also a life member of Cambridge University's Clare Hall.

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