This book looks at the history of Dutch and British colonial intervention in Sri Lanka between 1780-1815. It unravels colonialism’s layers as they had evolved during different phases of colonial transition in Sri Lanka and shows how traditional historical periodization has made colonial continuities and legacies invisible. While from the perspective of the Dutch and British themselves the take-over meant a watershed in their histories on the island, this may have been less so in the case of Sri Lankans at the time.
Dutch colonialism underwent profound changes in the second half of the eighteenth century, where it became increasingly exploitative and centralized. This directly affected Sri Lankan peasant society and strained political relations with Kandy. The book shows that these developments were related to the changing economic position of the VOC in the Indian Ocean trade, but also to the influx of new ideas about colonial exploitation derived from Enlightenment thought. A growing interest in the agrarian hinterland led to a territorial expansion along the Vanni, Manar and the East-coast, where the Dutch set up schemes to improve rice-cultivation with limited success. Furthermore, it explores how power-structures and administrative practices had become embedded in society overtime, through a complicated interplay between social groups and colonial rulers. Next, the book looks at early British colonialism. Debates about colonialism in different regions in India shaped imperial policies for Sri Lanka. Yet the book reveals the legacies of Dutch colonialism on British practices on the island. The British in the end depended heavily on the inherited knowledge-structure, power-relations and forms of exploitation as they had been taken shape during the late Dutch period. From the perspective of Sri Lanka, we may understand the whole period as one of intensification of colonial exploitation, territorialization and regulation.
The book is a revised edition of Dutch and British Colonial Intervention in Sri Lanka 1780-1815: Expansion and Reform (Leiden: Brill, 2007) and will be published in 2022 by TAP with permission from Brill for distribution in Sri Lanka and India.