The Santhal rebellion, in Bengal in 1855, was almost immediately overshadowed by the great mutiny-rebellion that began soon after. The rebellion, a short-lived uprising by tribal people against Hindu merchants and landlords, was swiftly and bloodily suppressed. Ethnographers and anthropologists have studied Santal life and culture extensively, but historians have been less interested.
Only two books have appeared: a short history published in 1940, and a book on visual representations of it in 2006. Neither used the massive lode of archival sources available in the India Office records. A new history of the rebellion, drawing on unused sources, is of course justified. But in approaching it, what questions should be asked? What issues should be addressed? How should the Santal voice be found? How can the santal perspective be acknowledged? What are the limitations and possibilities of such a project? (The difference between ‘Santhal’ and Santal’ will be covered …).
Peter Stanley, FAHA, Research Professor at UNSW Canberra, is one of Australia’s most productive military social historians. Formerly the Principal Historian at the Australian War Memorial, where he worked from 1980 to 2007, he has published over 30 books (most recently editing Jeff Grey: A Life in History, a tribute to a late colleague) and has maintained a special interest in the history of British India since his 1993 ANU PhD, published as White Mutiny. His next book will be ‘Terriers’ in India: British Territorials 1914-19, the first study of the 50,000 British citizen soldiers who served in India during the Great War, which will appear early in 2019.