Cultural exchange, imperialist violence, and pious missions: Local perspectives from Tanjavur and Lenape country, 1720-1760

Open Access
Utz, Axel
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
May 05, 2011
Committee Members:
  • A Gregg Roeber, Dissertation Advisor
  • A Gregg Roeber, Committee Chair
  • Kumkum Chatterjee, Committee Member
  • Dean R. Snow, Committee Member
  • William Pencak, Committee Member
  • Dan Beaver, Committee Member
  • early modern
  • eighteenth century
  • South Asia
  • South India
  • Tanjavur
  • Tamil
  • Native American
  • Lutheran Pietist
  • Colonial America
  • Lenape
  • Mahikan
  • Moravian
<p>This study explores how changing power relations influenced communication and exchange across cultural boundaries in the early to mid-eighteenth century--the period that set the stage for Western imperialism. The focus is on two areas--Tanjavur and Lenape country. Though quite distant from each other culturally and geographically--the former was located in South India, the latter in the North American Middle Atlantic--their histories followed similar trajectories. Both underwent dramatic changes. They experienced a period of peace and stability in the early eighteenth century. From the 1730s, geopolitical changes brought about political destabilization, militarization, and violence that culminated in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763).</p> <p>Accelerated British expansion was the major cause of these developments, since it violated earlier arrangements. In South India, the British East India company tightened its control of maritime trade and textile production. The state of Tanjavur was heavily affected because much of its tax income depended on rice and textile exports. In the Middle Atlantic, British expansion was accompanied by increasingly aggressive land acquisitions. Lenape polities were confronted with Pennsylvania’s changing land policies from the 1720s. When the French state tried to curtail British expansion from the late 1730s, conflicts escalated. In the process, the rationality of empires began to dominate communication and exchange across cultural boundaries. Local concerns were muted.</p> <p>This study is predominantly based on sources produced by Central European missionaries--Lutheran Pietists in Tanjavur and Moravians in Lenape country. Both sets of sources are extensive and unique. Pietists communicated with hundreds of local informants who represented a cross-section of society in Tanjavur. Moravians were the only contemporaries who lived in Lenape communities for extended periods of time and recorded their experiences in detail. Initially, neither Pietist nor Moravian missionaries identified with the British empire. The state of Tanjavur and Lenape polities integrated the two religious groups with a certain degree of success. Yet, their European ritual leaders belonged to global networks that depended on the infrastructure of empires. Their dependence on British means of transport and communication increased as British maritime dominance grew. Their views became aligned with British interests.</p>