Preserving Capital: an Important News Source for Indian Economic History

Capital, October 30, 1929.

The South Asia Materials Project (SAMP) has recently preserved on microfilm a decade’s worth of the Indian financial and economic newspaper Capital. Aruna Magier, South Asia Librarian at New York University, proposed this SAMP preservation project using Princeton University’s holdings of Capital from July 1921 through December 1931. This title holds a wealth of information that will be of great use to scholars in many fields.

Capital was colonial India’s oldest financial newspaper, covering trade, economic output, industry, infrastructure development, public affairs and current events. Its subtitle was “A Weekly Commercial Paper Devoted to the Interests of Capitalists and Employers of Labour”. Capital was founded by businessmen Shirley Tremearne and W. H. Targett in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) in November 1888 as a commercial and financial weekly newspaper in English. Its frequency of publication varied, ranging from weekly to fortnightly to monthly. Reflecting the city’s important economic role, Capital was widely read and respected as a business newspaper of record at the time. A 1917 compendium of information about the British Crown possession of Bengal noted “Although Capital is primarily a financial review, its pages are crammed with good readable articles on political, social, trading, and other items of general interest . . . This paper was never more influential and powerful than it is to-day, and there is no paper published in India which is so well known in other countries as Capital, or which can give greater facilities for advertisements relating to financial and commercial concerns”1

Historians of India, especially those studying economic and business history, will find a multitude of data, opinion pieces, advertisements, industry and labor relations reports, and reports on current events that could provide depth and nuance to their research. Capital contains greatly detailed data about a variety of types of companies operating in India at the time, including those producing tea, cotton, jute, and sugar. Reports also reflect British investment in companies supporting India’s emerging infrastructure development, especially in the areas of electrical power, engineering, and transport (roads, railways, civil aviation). Business historians will find a wealth of quantitative and qualitative information about the history of Indian industry, including the Tata companies that later became a global conglomerate. Capital also recorded extensive data on the historical Calcutta Stock Market and banking.

David Magier, Associate University Librarian for Collection Development at Princeton University and a specialist in South Asia studies, reports “Though a great number of historical South Asian newspapers have been preserved on microfilm at one time or another, there are still many titles that have been filmed incompletely or not at all. While core research interests in political and social history have led to the preservation of many mainstream newspapers, those specialized in other fields (such as finance and industry, as in the case of Capital) may not have been addressed with the same priority. There are holdings of Capital at some libraries, including the British Library, but print holdings are very brittle and lacking some critical years.”

Capital has been consulted by many scholars already, and it is well-known among researchers as an essential source for early 20th century Indian economic and political information. Dr. Arvind Rajagopal, Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, is currently studying colonial trademark regulation in India in the early 20th century. While many other British colonies had obtained their own trademark legislation in the late 19th century, India did not have trademark legislation until 1940. Several attempts at passing trademark legislation for India were made in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but each time it failed. The argument against this legislation was that it would be burdensome for manufacturers to register the trademarks both in England and India, although this hurdle surely had been overcome for other British colonies. Dr. Rajagopal’s current research will use the detailed accounts of Indian business transactions in Capital and other contemporary sources to explain the reasons behind the resistance to passing trademark legislation in India during this period.

Meghna Chaudhuri, a doctoral student in history at New York University, comments that “Capital is a key publication dealing with a broad range of economic, financial and related governance issues that enjoyed a broad readership across India, making it indispensable for studies that are trying to examine financial networks across the British Empire and economic subjectivities.” In discussing her research interests in global history and South Asia, Chaudhuri notes: “I plan to make a close examination of the journal for an insight into the forms of public debate on economic matters in the late 19th- early 20th century, as well as for getting a sense of what kinds of businesses— in the insurance/cooperative credit sector—were doing well and the ways in which they presented themselves through advertisements placed in this premier commercial/ financial paper whose readership extended beyond business elites”.

The project to preserve Capital will continue, as funds have been set aside by SAMP to microfilm issues from January, 1932, through June, 1941, from the issues currently held at the Center for Research Libraries (which were deposited from the collection of Northwestern University Library).

1. [Playne, Somerset; Bond, J.W., Wright, Arnold (1917): Bengal and Assam, Behar and Orissa: their history, people, commerce and industrial resources (London: Foreign and Colonial Compiling and Publishing Co.) p. 728] http:// 0315f;view=1up;seq=728