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Title: An imperial enlightenment? : notions of India and the literati of Edinburgh, 1723-1791
Author: Metze, Stefanie
ISNI:       0000 0004 2717 1061
Awarding Body: University of Aberdeen
Current Institution: University of Aberdeen
Date of Award: 2011
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This dissertation highlights the influence of the extension of Empire in India on Enlightenment in Scotland. It argues, consistently, that an ever increasing contact with the Eastern parts of Empire over the eighteenth century created productive tensions between the personal, material and intellectual worlds of the Edinburgh literati. Scottish thinkers stood in close contact to one another and congregated in the Select Society and the Poker Club. Beyond the domestic boundaries, they had practical and personal interests in contemporary events in the East Indies. All had relatives or acquaintances in India and were all correspondents of Sir John Macpherson, Governor-General of India (1785-6). The dissertation shows that a revision of civic humanism on the one hand and scientific Whiggism on the other, found their main dilemma in “luxury” and “despotism” respectively. Both of these concepts were intrinsically connected with the perception of India at the beginning of the eighteenth century. One of the outcomes of the literati’s personal and intellectual engagement with India was the different solutions for the regulation of Empire. Ferguson, following the tradition of civic humanism, argued for the importance of civic virtue in order to maintain Empire. His thoughts stood in stark contrast to Smith, Hume and particularly Robertson. Vigour, instead of civic virtue, needed to be developed and strengthened. No monolithic canon of how Empire could be sustained was developed by these men, but all were involved in squaring the circle of improvement through Empire. The constant interplay between domestic, cosmopolitan and imperial spheres suggests that Enlightenment had an imperial nature, which is highlighted in relation to the literati’s particular investigation of “luxury” and “despotism” and their positive perception of Nabobs. Moreover, the dissertation emphasises that Edinburgh associations can not only be viewed as pillars of Enlightenment in Scotland, but also as networks and the gateways to Empire from at least the 1760s. The evidence assembled suggests that men like Ferguson and Robertson were active players in a world which was intellectually and practically shaped by Empire.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Enlightenment ; Orientalism ; Influence (Literary, artistic, etc.) ; India ; Scotland