Plan of Budnaira Station

Project: Infrastructure and environmental impacts in colonial India

Local constructions, global ideas: engineering and colonial infrastructure in Khandesh and Berar in the nineteenth century

By focusing on the implementation of infrastructure constructions, this project studies the local use of natural resources, labour organisation, skills and methods through the papers of contractors and in colonial archives. From the perspective of environmental history, the aim is to analyse the local reception of engineering as infrastructures were built throughout the British Empire.

Project information

Project manager
Eleonor Marcussen
Participating organizations
Linnaeus University
The Crafoord Foundation, Linnaeus University Centre for Concurrences and Postcolonial Studies
1 Sep 2020–31 Aug 2021
History (Department of Cultural Sciences, Faculty of Arts and Humanities)

More about the project

This project builds upon a year of research as a postdoctoral fellow centered on the Joseph Stephens Archives at Linnaeus University, collections at the British Library and records in the Maharashtra State Archives (Mumbai).

Joseph Stephens was one of many Europeans, mainly Danes and Germans, who bought agrarian lands in the south Sweden county of Småland as the economic crisis marked by poverty and emigration hit the region in the second half of the 19th century. In the late 1860s, Stephens purchased the large iron estate Huseby estate outside Växjö after having made a fortune as a railway contractor in colonial India and would come to infuse new life into the estate's business for the next decades. Within the research project 'Huseby in the World' (Huseby i Världen) I looked at how colonial networks and transfers of knowledge played a role in the development of the iron estate Huseby Bruk during Stephens' time.

When Stephens left India, he brought many documents from the railway construction business with him to Huseby estate, only to be discovered and catalogued at Linnaeus University Library in 2008. Besides the papers of Joseph Stephens, Linnaeus University Library Archives hold a large collection of documents that show the history of Huseby estate across many hundred years, including a number of more limited archives of persons with close attachment to the estate during the 19th and 20th centuries. The papers of Joseph Stephens, his private papers and business documents from India as well as from the subsequent period in Sweden, provide an important source for understanding the development of the estate in the larger context of colonial enterprise, industrialization and local economic changes that took place in the second half of the 19th century.

In my current project, I rely on documents from his time in India concerning engineering in the broader context of material and labour acquisition on a regional level. The focus is on the interactive transfer processes as well as mechanisms of adaptation and appropriation of skills and technologies in a local context. Through the papers of Joseph Stephens and other contractors, ethnographic collections and colonial records, the research asks questions to how local resources and the environment shaped constructions and the impact it had on local communities.


The project is part of:
Linnaeus University Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies
Cluster for Colonial Connections and Comparisons