The Geographical Journal Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

The British Impact on Indian Geography

Topographical Projection of India

by Benjamin Sacks

This past week, the Prime Minister completed an official visit to India, leading a large entourage of government, business, sport, academic, artistic, and cultural leaders. The visit to India was intended to strengthen long-standing bilateral ties between the two nations. By opening a new chapter in an intimate, if often tense relationship, Mr Cameron stressed the economic and cultural benefits that India and the United Kingdom share – a common language, government organization, social priorities, and investment in key industries. In an editorial for The Hindu, Mr Cameron summarized his position by stating that, “I know that Britain cannot rely on sentiment and shared history for a place in India’s future. Your country has the whole world beating a path to its door. But I believe Britain should be India’s partner of choice in the years ahead”.

Indeed, India of the twenty-first century is prime real-estate for global investment. With well over one billion constituents, a burgeoning economy, and a fledgling middle class, India is poised to become a global player. Why might Britain enjoy an advantage over other global powers in competing for Indian business? The answer may lie in geography.

From a human geographical perspective, the contemporary Indian Diaspora in Britain is tremendously important, providing lucrative commercial, social and creative models that have permanently altered the British cultural landscape. This immigration influx was reactionary in nature, a post-colonial response to eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth century British rule of the Indian subcontinent. The geographical impact of the British Raj was immense. In a century, India was transformed from a vast agricultural region, separated by dozens of feuding kingdoms, into a prized economic asset – ‘the Jewel of the British Crown’. As early as the 1770s the East India Company commenced cartographic surveys of India, Pakistan, and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Reorganized under the Ordnance Survey Office, the Survey of India created a distinctive urban infrastructure, facilitated the development of the world’s most extensive railway network, and led to more efficient agricultural production and output. The developments of the India Survey were closely followed by the British public; an 1898 issue of The Geographical Journal complained that the annual issue of the Survey of India Report had been inexplicably delayed, angering investors and observers alike. In 2007 The Geographical Journal reviewed an excellent treatise on the subject. Entitled Colonial and Post-Colonial Geographies of India (Saraswati Raju, M Satish Kumar and Stuart Corbridge, eds.), this text successfully analysed changing Indian geography through Western and Indian eyes. Owing to the Royal Geographical Society’s long association with Indian exploration and cartography, the Society’s journals provide ample discourse of Indian-British narratives, including Miles Ogborn’s “Writing Travels,” and Alison Blunt’s “Imperial Geographies of Home”.

David Cameron, “A Stronger, Wider, Deeper Relationship,” The Hindu, 28 July 2010.

“Survey of India Report,” The Geographical Journal 12 no. 6 (Dec., 1898): pp. 606–607.

Sanjukta Mukherjee, “Review: Colonial and Post-Colonial Geographies of India – Edited by Saraswati Raju, M Satish Kumar and Stuart Corbridge,” The Geographical Journal 173 no. 1 (Jan., 2007): pp. 98–99.

Miles Ogborn, “Writing Travels: Power, Knowledge and Ritual on the English East India Company’s Early Voyages,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 27 no. 2 (Jun., 2002): pp. 155–171.

Alison Blunt, “Imperial Geographies of Home: British Domesticity in India, 1886-1925,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 24 no. 4 (Dec., 1999): pp. 421–440.


  1. An excellent, inciteful and intriguing examination of a time in world history that still resonates and which we shall increasingly be both the beneficiary and recipient of events good and ill, which occured during the colonial period. Great analysis and review!

  2. Do you mind if I quote a couple of your articles as long as I provide credit and sources back to your weblog? My website is in the very same niche as yours and my users would truly benefit from some of the information you provide here. Please let me know if this ok with you. Many thanks!

  3. An appreciable article written by you. Yes, the British did a great job at the time when they were in India and as well as the article presents the facts covering the history and geography both. Thanks to your article

  4. Let’s not forget how much damage British rule did to India, plunging it into complete poverty when it had previously been one of the world’s greatest economies. Let’s not forget the millions of lives lost from abuse and famines caused by the British sucking resources relentlessly like parasites. Let’s not forget how the British broke the looms and hands of cloths makers in an effort to disenfranchise them and make them dependent on the British. It’s truly evil that you’re trying to paint a glorious picture of these white people making India better when all they did was destroy it. I will never forgive you lot for even going as far as to alter our history books, making us lose sight in how rich our history was, the wealthy kingdoms, the aromatic spices, the beautiful handwoven cloths, in an effort to make us worship British rulers as saviors. We are more than just your “prized economic asset,” so do mind your language. We were one of the first civilizations in the world and never needed Britain to invade and use us to boost its own economy. Britain would not be half of what it is today without India. Remember that.

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