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A History of Bangladesh


  • 101 b/w illus. 12 maps 1 table
  • Page extent: 374 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.6 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9780521679749)

Bangladesh is a new name for an old land whose history is little known to the wider world. A country chiefly famous in the West for media images of poverty, underdevelopment, and natural disasters, Bangladesh did not exist as an independent state until 1971. Willem van Schendel's history reveals the country's vibrant, colourful past and its diverse culture as it navigates the extraordinary twists and turns that have created modern Bangladesh. The story begins with the early geological history of the delta which has decisively shaped Bangladesh society. The narrative then moves chronologically through the era of colonial rule, the partition of Bengal, the war with Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh as an independent state. In so doing, it reveals the forces that have made Bangladesh what it is today. This is an eloquent introduction to a fascinating country and its resilient and inventive people.

• Through the past to the present: a leading scholar traces Bengal's history to explain modern Bangladesh • Includes aids for students such as a chronology, biographies of key political figures, a glossary and maps • Features over 110 images that bring Bangladesh to life


Introduction; Part I. The Long View: 1. A land of water and silt; 2. Jungle, fields, cities and states; 3. A region of multiple frontiers; 4. The Delta as a crossroads; Part II. Colonial Encounters; 5. From the Mughal Empire to the British Empire; 6. The British impact; 7. A closing agrarian frontier; 8. Colonial conflicts; 9. Towards partition; 10. Partition; Part III. Becoming East Pakistan: 11. The Pakistan experiment; 12. Pakistan falls apart; 13. East Pakistani livelihoods; 14. The roots of aid dependence; 15. A new elite and cultural renewal; Part IV. War and the Birth of Bangladesh: 16. Armed conflict; 17. A state is born; 18. Imagining a new society; Part V. Independent Bangladesh: 19. Creating a political system; 20. Transnational linkages; 21. Bursting at the seams; 22. A national culture?; Conclusion.

Prize Winner

Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2009 - Winner


'This is an eloquent introduction to a fascinating country and its resilient and inventive people.' The Newsletter

'… it deserves critical attention and engagement … A History of Bangladesh is perhaps the first of its kind of book that brings such a long span of time within its covers. … [It] offers a coherent and refreshingly [broad] account of the country's historical developments. … Willem van Schendel offers an excellent synthesis of myriad issues and developments that have shaped Bangladesh.' Economic and Political Weekly

'Up to now there have been several attempts to write comprehensive histories of Bangladesh … It would seem difficult to find a place between these recent works. But this is exactly what Willem van Schendel has done so impressively. In a very attractive way he presents a history of the young state in eastern South Asia that is exciting even if we look only at the layout. It contains numerous maps and especially pictures that are certainly not merely illustrations but historical source material. The text boxes devoted to case studies or personalities help to deepen our knowledge. Equally novel is the breadth of the themes presented (such as migration, environment, urbanisation and media), which go well beyond the usual narrative of a political national history and instead present a full-blown history of society … After so much praise and so little criticism it goes without saying that this book belongs not only in every public library but also in the hands of as many readers as possible.' Michael Mann, H-Net

'Willem van Schendel's lively A History of Bangladesh is recommended.' Andrew Marshall, Telegraph

'[Willem van Schendel's] History of Bangladesh has somewhat the appearance of a Lonely Planet guide: glossy, well illustrated with over a hundred photographs and plates and with many page insets. It takes a generously inclusive approach, with an excellent introduction on the physical setting and pre-history. In a region all too obsessed with politics it gives equal attention to social, cultural, and economic matters. It is expressly designed 'for general readers and for students beginning to study the subject'. This necessarily entails the compression of complex issues but the author's judicious selectivity combines academic reliability with great readability. … This is a book I wish had been available when I first went to Bangladesh.' Asian Affairs

'… a fascinating and highly readable account of life in the Bengal delta over the last two millennia.' Jessica Mudditt, Contemporary South Asia

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