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The East India Company

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 26 June 2003

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the private trading company that helped forge the British Empire. At its peak, its influence stretched from western India to eastern China via the farthest reaches of the Indonesian archipelago. It had a fleet of 130 twelve hundred tonne ships and commanded an army of 200,000 troops that came to dominate the Indian subcontinent. It funded governments, toppled princes and generated spectacular amounts of money from trading textiles and spices. But this wasn’t an empire, it wasn’t even a state, it was a company. The East India Company, founded in 1600, lasted for 258 years before the British state gained full control of its activities. In that time it had redrawn the map of India, built an empire and reinvented the fashions and the foodstuffs of Britain.

But how did the East India Company become so powerful? How did it change both India and Britain and how was the idea of a company running a country ever accepted by the British Crown?

With Huw Bowen, Senior Lecturer in Economic and Social History at the University of Leicester; Linda Colley, School Professor of History at the London School of Economics; Maria Misra, Fellow and Tutor in Modern History at Keble College, Oxford.

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