Development and Underdevelopment in the History of Economic Thought

Enriching the concept of poverty through travel: Romesh Chandra Dutt’s travels to Europe in the late 19th century

Bach Maria Bach, The American University of Paris

Prior to imperialism in India, travel was not encouraged, if not completely disallowed. For instance, in Bengali the word travel is bhraman deriving from the Sanskrit root word bhram meaning to make a mistake or err. Indian travelogues had therefore been rare in the history of Indians. However, once British imperialism arrived in India and British education became more prevalent in the mid-19th century with the establishment of three British universities in North Indian, travelling became vital for an educated Indian. Some Indian travelogues subsequently appeared. Notably, Romesh Chandra Dutt, a Bengali graduate from the university of Calcutta in 1866, left India for Britain in 1868 without the permission of his parents to take the Indian Civil Service examinations. He later published a travelogue of his several travels to Europe, arguing like many of his contemporaries, that Indian accounts of Europe were important for Indians’ education. Some, although scant, secondary literature has analysed Indian travelogues – e.g. Sen (2005) analyses how travelogues helped to conceptualise nationalism. In this paper, I investigate how Dutt’s travels contributed to and impacted his understanding and conceptualisation of poverty. As argued in late 19th century India, Indians needed a first-hand and authentic experience of Europe to fully understand it. Much like Paul Cohen’s (1997) concept of experience, which analyses the thoughts, feelings and behaviour of immediate participants of an experience, I investigate how Dutt’s travelogues formed his understanding of the other. Dutt, along with his contemporaries, believed in travel particularly because the comparative method was essential for the study of human progress – one of Dutt’s major research interests. In sum, the paper investigates how Dutt’s first-hand observations and comparison of London’s and India's poor shaped his concept of poverty.


Keywords: poverty, Indian Economics, comparative method, travelogue