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Environment and History

Production Cycles and Decline in Traditional Iron Smelting in the Maidan, Southern India, c. 1750-1950: An Environmental History Perspective

Sashi Sivramkrishna

Environment and History 15 (2009): 163-97. doi: 10.3197/096734009X437972

This paper explores how economics, technology, politics and ecology interacted in causing ups and downs in the production of traditional iron making, and its subsequent decline in the early twentieth century. In the course of this exercise we find many lacunae in the study of Indian environmental history. These include a neglect of the impact of traditional iron and steel smelting industry on forests in pre- and early-colonial times, the possible strategic motive in controlling iron and steel production through control of charcoal production, the institutional mechanism of forest use for industrial purposes and the role of ecology in the decline of traditional industry. Some of these are important questions for those who seek to reintroduce traditional technologies. A study of history throws up interesting clues on how we could correct mistakes made in the past so as to plan more effectively for the future.

KEYWORDS: Iron smelting, charcoal, deforestation, forest policy, pre-colonial India, colonial India


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