Reading Lives Through Paper Trails
Lakshmi Subramanian
SUBALTERN LIVES: BIOGRAPHIES OF COLONIALISM IN THE INDIAN OCEAN WORLD 1790-1920 by Claire Anderson Cambridge University Press, 2013, 219 pp., 995
February 2013, volume 37, No 2-3

Subaltern Lives offers us much more than what it initially promises. It is not just a prospographical analysis of individual convicts, or about recuperating lives of marginal groups transported across vast spaces of Empire under conditions of extreme regulation and punishment, it is about methodology and the challenges of reading archives. Animated by the suggestions of Stoler and Cooper about reading the archive and acknowledging the differences and markers colonial experiences produced, the book looks at transportation and penal settlements, at categories such as race that was formed in a very particular mode and moment in the space of empire and finally at regimes of labour and punishment that helps us configure spatial networks quite differently across the maritime spaces of empire. Finally by adopting micro and life histories approaches, the book tracks down lives of unusual men and women whose paper trails albeit fragmented and occasionally discrete, enable us to complicate the idea of marginality and subalternity.

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