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Blochmann, Henry Ferdinand


Blochmann, Henry Ferdinand (1838-1878) orientalist and historian. A German by birth and upbringing, Henry Ferdinand Blochmann, turned out to be one of the greatest scholars of orientalism. Before he came to India in September 1858 as a private soldier of the British army, he acquired considerable knowledge about oriental languages from Leipzig and Paris. Terminating his brief military career, Blochmann joined the calcutta madrasa in 1865 as an Assistant Professor of Arabic and Persian. Later, he became its Principal in 1870, a position which he held until his death on 12 July 1878.

Blochmann died when he was only forty. His life span as an orienalist lasted hardly thirteen years. During this short period he mastered several classical languages, including Arabic and Persian, published many research works, translated with annotation many works including Ain-i-Akbari, contributed to Arabic and Persian lexicographies, and deciphered Arabic and Persian epigraphic and numismatic objects. In addition, he wrote a number of books of general interest for the calcutta school-book society. His Romanized School Dictionary (English and Urdu) and School Geography of India and British Burmah were used as standard textbooks for many decades after his death.

But Blochmann's greatest contribution to knowledge lies in his reconstruction of the history of Bengal and India through his re-reading and re-interpretation of extant manuscripts in Arabic, Persian and vernacular languages. Like some other scholars, he did not write books but published his research findings in the form of articles. He used The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal as the main media of his scholarly works. Almost all his oriental studies papers were published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society. Scholars agree that Blochmann's research led to a new intellectual environment in medieval studies, an environment that was more objective, rigorous, and analytical than ever before. To measure his analytical outlook, one can visit his research papers on Mughal Bengal, published in a series of articles entitled 'Contributions to the Geography and History of Bengal' in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (vol 42, 1873; vol 43, 1874; vol 44, 1875). Blochmann had collected and used a huge mass of hitherto unknown materials (literary, epigraphic and numismatic) and tried to read and interpret them as scientifically as possible. Not surprisingly, his findings are said to have enlarged the intellectual horizon of orientalists all over the world. [Sirajul Islam]