Street and house numbers are part of the modern state's geo-locational regime, by which people and places are made legible to distant governments and bureaucrats. Some writers have suggested that they were important in colonial cities, where urban regulation and political control was often insecure, but we know little about their extent and significance in such settings. Bombay and Calcutta c.1901 are significant test cases, being two of the largest colonial cities in the world, as well as being recent sites of major disease outbreaks. City directories in Bombay, together with property assessment and census evidence for Calcutta, show that house numbers were rare for all types of property and people. Local residents used other methods to navigate the city, while British administrators did not believe house numbers to be an important aspect of colonial rule. Fragmentary evidence for other colonial cities suggests that the experience of these Indian cities was broadly typical.
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