Reviews and Short Notices
Bibliography of the East India Company: Books, Pamphlets and Other Materials Printed Between 1600 and 1785. By Catherine Pickett. The British Library. 2011. xv + 301pp. £50.00.
Article first published online: 20 MAR 2013
© 2013 The Authors. Annual Bulletin of Historical Literature © 2013 The Historical Association
Annual Bulletin of Historical Literature
Volume 96, Issue 1, pages 73–74, December 2012
How to Cite
Makepeace, M. (2012), Bibliography of the East India Company: Books, Pamphlets and Other Materials Printed Between 1600 and 1785. By Catherine Pickett. The British Library. 2011. xv + 301pp. £50.00. Annual Bulletin of Historical Literature, 96: 73–74. doi: 10.1111/1467-8314.12026
- Issue published online: 20 MAR 2013
- Article first published online: 20 MAR 2013
Everyone with an interest in the history of the English East India Company should be delighted at the publication of Catherine Pickett's impressive bibliography. It is the result of over thirty years’ painstaking research and will surely soon become an essential tool for this important field of study. The East India Company was a controversial organization from the time of the grant of its first charter in 1600 and remains to this day the focus of hotly contested debate. The bibliography covers the period 1600–1785, thus encompassing the Company's beginnings as a purely trading organization, its evolution into an imperial power and the introduction of government supervision of many of its activities.
The list is arranged chronologically by year of publication so the groupings are to some extent also thematic. Scholarly introductions to the different sections contextualize the works that follow, and there are interesting and useful annotations throughout. A list of sources consulted by the author range from a cyclopaedia of political science to a pirates’ who's who! Separate indexes for names, titles and high-level subjects have been compiled.
Both official and commercial publications are included: printed books, pamphlets and other materials such as maps. Supporters and critics of the East India Company are represented, some with connections to the Company, others with none. There are publications dedicated to the Company or its directors, seeking or acknowledging patronage.
Much printed matter had been lost or discarded by the time the East India Company Library was established in 1801. Moreover, 300 tons of papers were sent for pulping in the mid-nineteenth century, no doubt printed ephemera as well as manuscript material. The Company's collection of publications became a part of the India Office Library, which was taken into the British Library in 1982. Where the publications listed in the bibliography are not held by the British Library at least one holding institution in Britain or the USA is given. Pickett has found gems in a wide range of places: for example Chetham's Library Manchester holds a seaman's bond from the 1690s for the ship Resolution. Readers are likely to discover something unfamiliar on most pages, such as the 1699 petition of the widow of a man hanged by the Company on St Helena.
As the author points out, there is not a great deal of material relating directly to India. The publications listed here reflect rather how the Company's policies affected merchants and manufacturers at home, and there is also much on the relationship between the Company and the state as the governance of India became a concern in the 1770s. The broad sweep of subjects covered includes: Company commerce and private trade; stockholders; cargoes outward and homeward; the sale of commodities; the relationship between the Company and its employees; dealings with other European powers in Asia; slavery; piracy; navigation; shipwrecks; diseases; and the Boston Tea Party.
Pickett states that she has amassed a great deal of material for the years from 1785 to 1858: would she contemplate compiling a second volume? If the production of another handsomely produced book such as this is not feasible, might it be possible to share the data up to 1858 via an online resource? It would be fascinating to be able to compare the concerns reflected in the publications for the period ending in 1785 with those produced during the years when the East India Company lost its commercial monopoly, faced rebellion in India and was finally disbanded.