From August 2013 to December 2014, Andrew researched the Early Press in India and the Bengal Renaissance under a Fulbright Nehru Research Grant in Kolkata and Delhi. Afterwards, in 2015, Andrew traveled to Germany and the UK to complete his research for his book on Hicky’s Bengal Gazette. You can read Andrew’s Statement of Grant Purpose and Personal Statement here.
Andrew conducted research at:
The Morgan Library
Andrew conducted his Fulbright in affiliation with:
Years ago, while looking for resources in my university’s library stacks, I noticed an unmarked brown covered book, dusty with age and disuse. Inside, I found the Memoirs of William Hickey, lawyer for journalist James Hicky. As a member of England’s upper class in the late 18th century, he represented clients in India, the West Indies, and England, all of which he documented in precise detail. His descriptions of Calcutta struck me, with their colorful characters, complaints of a deleterious climate and entanglements between Indians and British.
Much like a travel guide, he introduced me to the following story of Hicky and his gazette:
On June 16, 1781, an armed gang of Europeans and sepoys (Indian soldiers), surrounded James Hicky’s house, beat down his gate with sledgehammers and overpowered his servants to force their way inside. As curious onlookers gathered, the Europeans and sepoys produced a warrant for his arrest. He was accused of writing “gross libels” against the Calcutta Government in his newspaper, the Bengal Gazette, recognized as the first paper founded in Asia. What followed were years of show trials and punitive sentencing that condemned Hicky to a decade in debtors’ prison and a life as a pauper.
When I read this account, I knew I needed to find out more. What followed has been many years of intensive research as I’vd worked to piece together Hicky’s life. History and journalism share a most integral similarity: they are both about weaving narratives into a story that stimulates, intrigues and captures the mind. It was then I knew I had found a good story.
Hicky’s defense stands out as the media’s first attempt in colonial Calcutta to assert free speech rights. Calcutta’s early wealth of media sources attested to its reputation as India’s intellectual capital. These media were formative for the Bengal Renaissance, a 19th-century social reform movement crucial to developing the concept of India as a nation-state. The Renaissance’s rich cultural and scientific heritage can be seen in the influence of thinkers such as Rabindranath Tagore and Sri Aurobindo. Many early Renaissance leaders, including Raja Ram Mohan Roy, had backgrounds as editors and publishers. Papers, founded at first by Europeans, followed Hicky’s Bengal Gazette, slowly forming a free press in India. Newspapers are important to society due to their ability to expose corruption and guide discourse. They act as strong influencers of public opinion. These early papers, with their expressions of free thought and vigorous debate, are integral to understanding the Bengal Renaissance and contemporary India.