Benjamin Schultze‘s dialogue book on Madras. A critical approach to a cultural-historical missionary source

Benjamin Schultze‘s dialogue book on Madras. A critical approach to a cultural-historical missionary source

DFG Long Term Project MIDA (Modern India in German Archives); in cooperation with the Franckesche Stiftungen, Halle
Vom - Bis
01.03.2022 - 02.03.2022
Marta Podvolotskaya, Zentrum Moderner Orient

Benjamin Schultze (1689-1760) was one of the most prolific, but also most controversial missionaries of the Danish-English-Halle Mission, which worked in South India in the 18th and early 19th century. His conversation book The Large and Renowned Town of The English Nation in The East-Indies Upon the Coast Of Coromandel, Madras Or Fort St. George, [...] represents a unique result of early Protestant knowledge production about India. Originally written in English and Telugu (in 1730), it later appeared in two printed versions, one with a German, the other with an English text.[1] The two-day expert workshop approached the trajectory, content, and role of this missionary source comprehensively from different disciplinary perspectives and explored the potential of a critical source-related publication. The contributions analyzed the original two-language manuscript as well as the monolingual publications in their relevant historical contexts from different disciplinary perspectives (history, anthropology, linguistics, or area studies). They addressed the following aspects: 1) The source and its afterlife; 2) The author and his oeuvre; 3) Schultze´s dialogue book as a language textbook, and 4) The dialogue book and socio-cultural aspects.

The workshop began with the presentation of GEORG BERKEMER´s (Berlin) approach to the digitized manuscript of Benjamin Schultze's Dialogues. He analysed 166 pages containing 30 dialogues: 3 in English and 27 bilingual ones in Telugu and English along criteria related to the materiality of the source as well as to the linguistic qualities. Despite the limitations presented by the digital format, the manuscript was assessed as a physical object, considering such properties as the types of paper and the handwriting, among others. The text was examined without referring to secondary literature, for the purpose of acquainting with the source without external influence. Such findings as proofreading and varying handwriting in the book lead to questions, such as: how many people wrote it, where and at which point in time? And who, if anyone, was supposed to learn Telugu from this text? The following discussion unearthed more questions, mostly revolving around the authorship, target readership, and the educational purpose of the Dialogues.

Following the discussion of the manuscript as a physical object and as the text in its own right, presentations moved on to the context surrounding the manuscript. HEIKE LIEBAU (Berlin) placed this work into the linguistic studies of the missionary Benjamin Schultze and referred to the development of linguistics in the 18th century in general. With regard to the Telugu-English dialogue book, she made observations based on Schultze’s diaries, considering his life and work as a missionary, teacher, and scholar. Not a lot of material exists that could shed light on the origins and purposes of the Dialogue Book, but taking into account the context of the text by using additional material both from missionary sources as well as beyond, allowed for a different level of understanding of Schultze’s work. The following discussion concerned with criticism of Schultze’s work by his missionary-colleagues and with his role in contemporary scholarly networks. New questions emerged regarding the specificity of Telugu in the text, as well as the academic meaning and purpose of the Dialogues, while further inquiries into its intended audience continued.

REKHA KAMATH RAJAN (Hyderabad) introduced the close reading of the text she did to assess its discursive power and the role the language plays in reconstructing aspects of life of a European in Madras in the early colonial setting. Rajan examined pronoun use and other forms of address in relation to social distinction, for example when Ihr of the lower status is used instead of Sie. During this close reading, interactional linguistics (speech act theory) was used as a method of analysis for some aspects of the dialogues. The discussion revolved around language as a tool of empire and Schultze’s attempts to validate his own position through his writing. Participants analysed the production of hierarchies through language and whether Schultze through his writings re-produced hierarchies in society, or/and referred to already established orders. Lastly, it was discussed how the servants’ presentation of subservience in dialogues in Telugu varied from that in English and German.

Continuing the contextual discourse, TOBIAS DELFS (Berlin) provided an analysis of the Dialogues from the perspective of trade, production, consumption, and social relations, connecting these aspects to food and drink, as they feature in 22 out of 30 dialogues. Delfs used the departure point of nutrition to consider the social context Schultze portrayed or aimed to portray in the text. A central role played being the (European) household and negotiation processes between “master” and “servant”. The discussion following this paper engaged in the ambivalent concept of stereotypes: what should be regarded as stereotype, from what perspective? How far were such stereotypes (re)produced intentionally, for instance with a view to the readership? The debates touched upon the role of Pietism as the religious background of the missionary and possibilities of Eigensinn as opposition to norms and expectations. Regarding the servant’s role, the question of possible resistance was raised, specifically on how one could find those forms through interpreting the text.

Participants continued engaging with the multilayered context of the text, working into the discussions a variety of multidisciplinary expertise. NICOLA McLELLAND’s (Nottingham) presentation offered a survey of the linguistic and cultural context of the Dialogues. Having analysed the two monolingual versions (German and English), McLelland situated the text in the wider history of language learning and teaching. Erasmus’ Latin Colloquia Familiaria was taken for comparison, as well as other earlier language manuals. The question of readership was touched upon again, including the gender aspect. In the discussions such concepts as familiarity and caste, formality, intimacy, and class distinction through ihr/du, relating to the text were debated. In addition, the meaning of standard language in the 18th century was discussed, be that Telugu, German, or English, and whether such standard versions existed.

LISA MITCHELL (Philadelphia/Halle) explored the construction of relationships between and among languages and their speakers in the Dialogues. In her research, she gave special attention to the representation of hierarchical structures through categories regarding people, labour, etc., and Schultze’s efforts to produce parallels and equivalents among languages. Mitchell situated these categories in the context of Schultze’s own experiences and practices utilized in his missionary work and his efforts to distinguish himself from other Europeans in India. This contextualization was possible by using Schultze’s diary as a source to understand his own conceptualization of himself. Thus, the workshop participants got another glimpse of Schultze as a personality and the various tensions between his self-representation and the representation of other Europeans, from whom he distinguishes himself. Discussion here continued with the role of Pietism but opened up to an interconfessional comparison, such as with Moravians, Jesuits, etc., and the competition between confessional groups which needs to be considered when working with the Dialogues.

VIDHYA RAVEENDRANATHAN (Göttingen/Shanghai) located Schultze’s text within labour relationships in Madras, labour being a social relationship and a material factor. Analyzing dialogues from this perspective, she looked at how people in the dialogues talked about monetary and social transactions. She argued that the book could be seen as a formalized guide on bookkeeping with its details on wages and household expenditures. Guild-like quality of labour in Madras was one of the topics of the following discussion. Because of the ways in in which the Dialogues (and other texts like it) characterize societies, it becomes an ethnography and a prism through which the native society is perceived. Servants are both interlocutors/informants in the unequal relationship, and objects of disciplining. The concept of “cheating” and the possibility of using “cheating or stealing” as a strategy of upward mobility was discussed here, continuing the position of servants raised before. Can internal morality (Weber) be applied in this discourse? However, Schultze´s dialogues do not represent a comprehensive societal analysis, but rather the text might have simplified the complicated existing labour relationships.

The final presentation by NIELS BRIMNES (Aarhus) analyzed Schultze’s work as in itself a cross-cultural dialogue existing in a context of shifting power relations, especially visible in 18th century caste struggles in South India. Upon a closer look it is apparent that conversations taking place are often an exchange between varying cosmologies, but a ‘middle ground’ for shared meanings and practices is constantly created. The discussion followed the theme of negotiation of social configurations by various everyday means. It was discussed whether caste was more fixed in Schulze’s world than in the secular community that he describes, as well as the colonial construction of caste. But indeed, very little is mentioned on caste in Schultze’s text.

During the concluding session, it was stated that the contextual exploration of the Dialogues produced further questions, while questions regarding intended readership, the purpose, and the process of creation of the Dialogues have surfaced throughout the workshop. Who did Schultze and his network address in his book? Was someone meant to learn English/Telugu from it and why would they need or wish to do so? Was it only the language that was meant to be learnt, or was a larger array of knowledge to be conveyed through them? The interdisciplinary analyses and the accompanying discussion allowed for appreciation of the missionary source’s capacity in assessing its author as an arbitrator and negotiator, and in better understanding the social dynamics of power relations in the early 18th-century Madras.[2]

Conference overview:

Opening remarks by Heike Liebau (ZMO), Holger Zaunstöck (Franckesche Stiftungen, Halle), Michael Mann (HU Berlin, MIDA)

Georg Berkemer (Berlin): Learning Telugu with Benjamin-gāru. Some comments on Schultze's dialogues

Heike Liebau (Berlin): The missionary Benjamin Schultze and linguistics in the 18th century

Rekha Kamath Rajan (Hyderabad): A European life in Madras: Benjamin Schultze's conversation book as a portrayal/construction of colonial conditions

Tobias Delfs (Berlin): Food and drink in Benjamin Schultze's dialogue book on Madras

Nicola McLelland (Nottingham): Benjamin Schultze's dialogue book on Madras in the history of language learning and teaching

Lisa Mitchell (Philadelphia/Halle): Hierarchy and equivalence: Parallel, horizontal, and vertical relationships in the 1730 Dialogues of Benjamin Schultze

Vidhya Raveendranathan (Göttingen/Shanghai): Arithmetical thinking, household management and control of servants in eighteenth century Madras; A study of Benjamin Schultze's dialogue book on Madras

Niels Brimnes (Aarhus): Dialogues on caste in eighteenth-century South India

[1] The manuscript as well as to the two printed versions can be found on the website of the Franckesche Stiftungen Halle: (german); (english); (original manuscript) (04.07.2022).
[2] The result of the workshop will be published with the Francke Foundations Halle/Saale in an edited volume planned for 2024. A detailed transliteration of the manuscript prepared by Georg Berkemer will be uploaded in the MIDA Thematic Resources by September 2022. (

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