TAPSA: “Reading the Landscape: Systematic Geography and Disputed Territory”
Kyle Gardner, PhD Candidate, History
This paper focuses on two different colonial approaches to “reading” the northwestern Himalaya and the broader imperial periphery. The first, a top-down approach centered on constructing a bordered territory, is reflected in the development and organization of gazetteers and other manuals of governance. This increasingly technocratic mode of seeing territory built off of earlier surveys that crafted a unified spatial image India. But this image of bounded territory belied deeper uncertainties in frontier locales. The second half of the paper is devoted to case studies that challenge the top-down reading of imperial territory. These include debates over the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir’s jāgīr (rent-free estate) in Tibet, concerns over the triennial Ladakhi “tribute” mission to Lhasa (the lo.phyag), the apparent abduction of a Ladakhi trader by Tibetan authorities, and ongoing debates between Tibetan, Kashmiri, and British officials over where semi-nomadic pastoralists (byang.pa) were to pay taxes. These examples offer an alternative reading of the landscape, one that is much less legible to colonial administrators and casts doubt on the top-down definition of boundaries assumed in the geographical episteme of the gazetteers and other administrative manuals.