David Washbrook

William Pinch's picture

It is with sadness that I relay the news that David Washbrook of Trinity College, Cambridge, has passed away.  David's scholarship over four decades on a wide range of topics in South Asian history--on politics (especially South India), political economy, social history, historiography/theory, and the eighteenth century--was well known to anyone interested in the early modern and modern history of the subcontinent and the Indian Ocean and global history more generally.  I believe he would have been 72 in May.  The following note was received this morning from Barbara Roe at the Cambridge Centre of South Asian Studies:


The Centre of South Asian Studies is deeply saddened to announce the news of the passing of David Washbrook. He passed away peacefully at home. We have just received this news from his daughter Liz Washbrook and will announce information of the memorial arrangements as soon as they are received.

David Washbrook is well known to many in our community as a scholar of great distinction. His contributions to South Asian History, and especially to social and economic history and South India, form a staple of any reading list in the field. He was also enormously respected as a mentor and teacher and indeed carried on supervising on the MPhil in South Asian Studies to this year.

On this sad occasion, we may wish to turn to the set of essays published in honour of David in 'Modern Asian Studies' (2017) and especially the introduction by Joya Chatterji and Prasannan Parthasarathi:


Centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge.


As the linked essay by Joya Chatterji and Prasannan Parthasarathi makes abundantly clear, David was an inspiration to generations of students and colleagues.

I am deeply saddened to hear this. Washbrook's work was and is hugely influential when it comes to the history of South India in particular, and has been pioneering in many ways, especially for those who were not enamored with subaltern studies or post-structural perspectives.

He was an examiner for my Ph.D dissertation on caste conflicts and violence in provincial Andhra at the University of Hyderabad way back in 1995. I was grateful for his generous and encouraging review of what was essentially a sociological study poor on both ethnography and archival research, albeit drawing upon some of Washbrook's insights on caste and political conflicts in the Madras Presidency.

Challenging established historical arguments, and pointing to new lines of thinking in interpreting 18th and 19th century India, his work continues to offer significant insights for contemporary sociological and political debates.

Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai, India