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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 February 2016

University of Chicago
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Seeking to challenge the totalizing theory of an ‘ethnographic state’, this article examines a mid-nineteenth-century paradigm shift that impacted the colonial study of borderland populations along India's North-West Frontier. While the establishment of metropolitan ethnographic societies in the 1870s facilitated the rise of socio-cultural evolutionism, colonial agents also utilized folklore and proverb studies to represent the borderland societies as dynamic cultural entities reactive to British encroachment. Four case-studies, moreover, demonstrate that a variety of motivations compelled colonial agents to produce ethnographic material. These factors included personal scholarly ambition, political activism, and a commitment to transregional ‘scientific’ data collection projects. This study complicates the relationship between knowledge production and state power by reasserting the significance of personality as an operative force in the formation of colonial discourse.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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I would like to thank Fredrik Albritton Jonsson, Deborah Cohen, and the participants of the Newberry Seminar in British History for their constructive feedback. Additional thanks are due to Kyle Gardner and Gautham Reddy for their input on earlier drafts, as well as the two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments.


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5 By ‘frontier’, I am referring generally to the trans-Indus districts, although both Bellew and Thorburn were somewhat mobile in their professional capacities.

6 This approach is informed by Thomas Trautmann's study of the orientalist intellectual networks that contributed to the formulation of the Dravidian proof. See Trautmann, Languages and nations: the Dravidian proof in colonial Madras (Berkley, CA, 2006).

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20 Ibid., p. 1.


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28 Ibid., p. 58.


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39 B. D. Hopkins, The making of modern Afghanistan (New York, NY, 2008), p. 14.

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41 Sarah F. D. Ansari, Sufi saints and state power: the pirs of Sind, 1843–1947 (Cambridge, 1992), passim.

42 H. W. Bellew, A general report on the Yusufzais (repr., Lahore, 1977), p. 101.

43 Ibid., p. 161.


44 Ibid., p. 187.


45 Ibid., p. 151.


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59 Dirks, Castes of mind, 194.

60 Richard C. Temple, ‘The administrative value of anthropology’, in Anthropology as a practical science (London, 1914), p. 18.

61 William Crooke, ‘Scientific ethnography in northern India’, in E. Delmar Morgan, ed., Transactions of the Ninth International Congress of Orientalists (2 vols., London, 1893), ii, p. 882.

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63 Ballantyne, Orientalism and race, p. 53.

64 Richard M. Dorson, The British folklorists: a history (London, 1968), p. 332.

65 E. B. Tylor, Primitive culture (2 vols., London, 1871), i, p. 64.

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79 Thorburn, Bannu, p. 141.

80 Ibid., p. 164.


81 Ibid., p. 297.


82 Ibid., p. 323.


83 Ibid., p. 36.


84 Ibid., p. 279.


85 S. S. Thorburn, The Punjab in peace and war (Edinburgh and London, 1904), p. 339. Thorburn was compelled to issue an apology for this comment, as it was construed as an ‘attack on the government’.

86 S. S. Thorburn, Asiatic neighbours (Edinburgh and London, 1894), p. 170.

87 Thorburn, Bannu, p. 233.

88 Ibid., p. 234.


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93 Ibid., p. 245.


94 Thorburn, Asiatic neighbours, p. 19.

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98 Dames served mostly in the trans-Indus Dera Ghazi Khan district of the Punjab.

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101 Ibid., p. 476.


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103 M. Longworth Dames, Popular poetry of the Baloches (London, 1907), p. xxxix.

104 Ibid., p. xxix.


105 Thorburn, Bannu, p. 173.

106 Dames, Popular poetry, p. 54.

107 M. Longworth Dames, The Baloch race (London, 1904), p. 31.

108 Dames, Popular poetry, p. 100.

109 Ibid., p. 194.


110 Ibid., p. xxix.


111 Farina Mir, The social space of language (Berkeley, CA, 2010), p. 103.

112 Trautmann, Aryans and British India, p. 228.

113 Rama Mantena, The origins of modern historiography in India: antiquarianism and philology, 1780–1880 (New York, NY, 2012), p. 125.

114 Wolfe, Settler colonialism, p. 158.

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