The History of British India


James Mill (1773–1836) was a Scottish-born writer and political philosopher, also known as the father of the philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill (1806–73). He studied at the University of Edinburgh, was licensed as a Presbyterian minister, and worked for a time as an itinerant preacher. In 1802 Mill moved to London, where he began a career as a writer of pamphlets, articles, and eventually books. In 1806 he began his monumental The History of British India, which he published in 1817. Mill had never traveled to India and knew none of the Indian languages. His objective was to gather, read, and evaluate the vast amount of written documentation about India that existed in European languages to produce a comprehensive “critical history”—one that would render judgements about both the events covered and the evidence on which knowledge of these events was based. The three-volume work is organized in six books. Book one deals with the earliest British interactions with India, from the voyage to India by the merchant Robert Thorne in 1527 to the state of the East India Company in the early 1700s. Book two deals with the history, religion, literature, and culture of ancient India and Hindu civilization in particular. Book three covers Islamic conquest and rule, beginning with incursions in the ninth century and concluding with the Mughal Empire. This book ends with a chapter entitled “A Comparison of the State of Civilization among the Mohamedan Conquerors of India with the State of Civilization among the Hindus.” Books four, five, and six cover the expansion and consolidation of British power in India and the rule of the East India Company. The work contains a glossary of terms, a large fold-out map entitled “Map of the Eastern Part of Persia with Afghanistan, Bactriana, Trans-Oxiana, &c” at the beginning of volume one, and a foldout “Map of Hindoostan” at the beginning of volume two. The latter map was compiled and engraved by the London mapmaker John Arrowsmith. Mill’s “critical history” is known for its harsh judgments on Hindu culture and civilization, which Mill characterized as “rude” and “backward.” Despite its many limitations, Mill’s The History of British India served as the standard reference work on Indian history for much of the 19th century.

Date Created

Publication Information

Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, London


Title in Original Language

The history of British India

Type of Item

Physical Description

3 volumes : maps ; 28 x 22 centimeters


  1. Terence Ball, “Mill, James (1773‒1836),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2004).

Last updated: September 30, 2016