Byron, Gandhi and the Thompsons: the Making of British Social History and Unmaking of Indian History

This paper explores the influence of the Indian nationalist movement on the formation of British social history by highlighting the intellectual and social bonds between key nationalists and the Thompson family (Edward Thompson and his sons Frank and E. P. Thompson). A twentieth-century preoccupation with Byron, whose Romantic views of freedom and nation were shaped by the period of colonial conquest, hangs over the joint intellectual and political history of Indian nationalism and British socialism. Besides the Thompsons, Mohandas Gandhi, T. E. Lawrence, George Orwell, Rabindranath Tagore, and Jawaharlal Nehru are key figures in this web of influences and homages. Tracing this intellectual inheritance exposes the fundamentally anti-historical nature of Perry Anderson’s recent critique of the ‘Indian Ideology’, particularly of its religiosity. The study reveals how the colonial and orientalist context in which Romanticism, nationalism, and the historical discipline took shape continues to colour our ideal and expectations of ‘secular modernity’.