Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2018

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr. Lucy Chester

Second Advisor

Dr. Matthew Gerber

Third Advisor

Dr. Jennifer Fluri

Abstract

Herat was exalted as the key to India’s defense during the nineteenth century. This small city in the Khorasan region of contemporary Afghanistan was obsessed over by British politicians, explorers, agents, and authors, yet no secondary source has sought to explain why British advocates attributed importance to the city. This thesis argues that Herat was important to British men on the ground in Central Asia who feared that oncoming Russian and Persian expansionism would threaten India. Initially, British interest in the northwest frontier of India grew out a need to protect what they perceived to be the only vulnerable frontier of the subcontinent and was manifested in calls for buffer states and economic encroachment. This evolved to focus on Herat, demonstrated through the forward policy of the First-Anglo-Afghan War, which was spurred on by advocates of Herat’s importance. However, the human and economic toll of the war proved too costly and Herat’s attributed importance faded with the diminished forward policy. This played out similarly during the 1850s, but appeared to end definitively as the Russian and Persian threats were eliminated in the Crimean and Anglo-Persian Wars. Withdrawing into a period of isolationism, it would take Russian territorial encroachments on Herat to revive the city’s importance to British advocates, who published dozens of documents debating the necessary steps to defend British influence. However, the resulting Panjdeh Crisis and the lack of any further threats from Russia or Persia diminished any remaining individual fears that losing Herat would be detrimental to Britain.

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