Anthropologist and Imperialist: H.H. Risley and British India, 1873–1911
CJ Fuller
140 x 216 mm
Year of Publishing
Territorial Rights
Social Science Press

Anthropologist and Imperialist: H. H. Risley and British India, 1873–1911 brings out how imperative the role of Sir Herbert Hope Risley was to India’s colonial past. A member of the Indian Civil Service (ICS) from 1873 to 1910, Risley served in Bengal and became a senior administrator and policymaker in the colonial government. He was also the pre-eminent anthropologist in British India. An imperialist, Risley was convinced about the rightness of ‘civilising’ British rule and its benefits for both India and Britain. One of this book’s objectives is to render his simultaneous commitment to anthropology and imperialism intelligible to present-day readers. More specifically, Anthropologist and Imperialist draws attention to the two sides of Risley’s career, which is used as a case-study to investigate, first, the production and circulation of colonial knowledge, specifically anthropological knowledge, and secondly, its often loose and inconsistent connection with administration and policymaking, and with the government and state overall.

Risley, like other officials engaged in anthropology in India, as well as the government itself, insisted that ethnography and anthropology had both ‘administrative’ and ‘scientific’ value; unlike previous works on Indian colonial anthropology, this book carefully examines its ‘scientific’ contributions in relation to contemporary metropolitan anthropology.

The book attempts to demonstrate the importance of studying the powerful officials who ruled British India, as well as the minor provincial politicians and subaltern subjects – or the abstract forces, such as colonialism and resistance – that have dominated recent historical scholarship. It does not seek to reinvent ‘great-man’ political or intellectual history. This book also shows that a detailed inquiry into Risley’s career, and his ideas and actions, can open up new perspectives on a variety of continuing debates, including those over the colonial construction of caste and race in ‘traditional’ India, orientalism and forms of colonial knowledge, Victorian anthropology’s close relationship with the British empire, and the modern discipline’s uneasy links with its colonial past.

C.J. Filler is emeritus professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics. He is the author of several books, including The Camphor Flame and The Renewal of the Priesthood.

List of Tables and Maps
Notes on Indian Names, Currency and the Bibliography


1. Early Life in England
2. Junior District Officer and Gazetteer Assistant
3. Under-Secretary in the Government of Bengal
4. District Officer in Chota Nagpur
5. The Ethnographic Survey of Bengal
6. The Tribes and Castes of Bengal
7. Proposals to Extend the Ethnographic Survey
8. Financial and Municipal Secretary, Government of Bengal
9. Commissioner of the 1901 Census and Director of Ethnography for India
10. Caste, Race and Hierarchy
11. Curzon’s Home Secretary in the Government of India
12. Minto’s Home Secretary in the Government of India
13. Caste, Class and Nationalism
14. Secretary in the India Office, Last Months in England and Unfinished Work
15. Political Sequel and Anthropological Legacy

Appendix: Chronology and Record of Service



5.1: Social Precedence: Lists A and B, Bihar, and S. N. L. Roy’s List
5.2: Social Precedence: List C, Eastern Bengal
5.3: Social Precedence: List D, Central Bengal, with B. B. Mukherji’s Corrected List
6.1: Mean Nasal Indices and Social Precedence in Bengal Proper
9.1: Social Precedence: Risley’s List for Bengal, 1901


2.1: Bengal Districts in 1893
3.1: Central Calcutta in 1893

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