FIRST EDITION OF THURSTON'S CASTES AND TRIBES OF SOUTHERN INDIA, ILLUSTRATED WITH 176 PHOTOGRAPHIC PLATES
THURSTON, Edgar, assisted by K[adambi]. Rangachari. Castes and Tribes of Southern India. Madras: Government Press, 1909. Seven volumes. Thick octavo, orignal pictorial green cloth gilt. $1650.
First edition of Thurston's ethnographic account of the population in the Madras Presidency, generously illustrated with 176 photographic plates, in original cloth.
"To the British, India was an ideal locus for science: it provided a rich diversity that could be mined for knowledge… To know was to name, identify and compare—this was the frame in which the question of understanding India entered the discourse of colonial science" (Prakash, "Science 'Gone Native' in Colonial India," Representations 40, 155). Edgar Thurston, superintendent of the Madras Central Museum, exemplifies this colonial impulse to classify and categorize. An avid ethnologist, he "pursued his special interest in anthropometry"— scientific study of the body's measurements and proportions—"rather unusually; he kept his calipers and other measuring instruments handy, using them on native visitors to the museum—sometimes paying them, sometimes not" (Prakash, 156). As part of the Indian government's 1901 ethnographic survey, Thurston measured as many as 30 to 60 members of a "caste" or "tribe" (though sometimes as few as six or seven) "and mapped them under certain racial categories… Taking information from his assistants and K. Rangachary (a botany lecturer), he compiled seven volumes on the castes and tribes of the south India in alphabetical sequence, covering a brief history of their origin, customs, religious practices and occupation, and classed them within particular groups" (Bhukya, "The Mapping of the Adivasi Social," Economic and Political Weekly, 104-105). Although his racial science has been discredited, Thurston's work remains a valuable record of diversity in Colonial India and the folkways, some now long-vanished, of its people. With 176 black-and-white photographic plates. Bookseller's small ticket in last four volumes.
Inner hings expertly reinforced, just a few plates expertly reattached Texts lightly embrowned, scattered light foxing. Original cloth lightly rubbed with mild spotting, several spines lightly toned; gilt bright. A very good set.