Gazetteers of Bengal

Gazetteers of Bengal technically an index of place-names, the Indian Gazetteer, for example. But the 19th century gazetteers of Bengal districts have a distinctive character. They give all sorts of information, not only place names but also introductions to the history, geography, economy and culture of places. Walter Hamilton's East India Gazetteer, 2 vols (London, 1828), which gives geographical, topographical, statistical and historical narratives, was an instant success. Most Europeans engaged in trade and commerce in the east used it as a manual. Its success led to the posthumous publication of Francis Buchanan's Geographical, Statistical and Historical Description of the District or Jilla of Dinajpur, (Calcutta, 1833), M Martin's Eastern India (1833) and Taylor's Topography of Dacca (1840).

A good number of civilians wrote district accounts, which were very popular among the zamindars, talukdars, ijaradars, naibs, gomastas who collected these books and read them avidly because they contained mention of feudal estates and owners' family histories. Beveridge';s gazetteer of Bakerganj district had played the pioneering role in the making of district gazetteers. After the publication of the statistical account of bengal (London, 1876) the administration felt the necessity of preparing independent district gazetteers. A plan was adopted in the 1880s to prepare district gazetteers based on records of the Survey and Settlement Operations. The outcome was the publication of gazetteers of almost all Bengal districts in the first quarter of the 20th century.

These gazetteers are still useful to scholars and administrators alike. The District Gazetteer establishment was not discontinued even after Partition (1947). The district gazetteer establishment was there during Pakistan and early Bangladesh period. Its main job was to update the old district gazetteers. The district gazetteer establishment was led by government officials who found it unproductive or unnecessary in view of the huge changes taken place over the period in the production and management of knowledge and thus the establishment was abolished in 1947. [Sirajul Islam]