Hist7358: Material Cultures of Empire in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century
Teacher: Kate Smith
This course employs frameworks emerging from the ‘new’ imperial history to explore the role played by material culture in Britain’s imperial relationship with India from the early eighteenth century until 1857. The first weeks of the course examine the journeys which imperialists embarked on, the homes they established, the clothes they wore, the buildings they built and the memorials they erected while in India. Later weeks focus on those who returned to Britain after time in India and questions how the material worlds they constructed once home shaped their contemporaries’ understandings of empire. By exploring these different material cultures of imperial life, this course encourages students to think critically about the power relations embedded within the material world. At the same time it will ask them to question the place of material culture studies within wider histories of empire.
Whilst challenging students to employ a range of analytical frameworks, this course also seeks to teach new skills useful to their research work. As part of the course students will visit three collections within London. First, students will visit the British Library where they will examine a series of prints and inventories to explore the domestic spaces belonging to East India Company families while in India. In preparation for this visit students will be expected to order up a source, which they will view during the second half of the visit. Second, students will visit the Museum of London to participate in an object handling session focused on dress. The Museum of London has a particularly strong collection of muslin dresses, which through handling will challenge students to consider not only the aesthetic effects of such garments but also the different ways in which they shaped imperialists’ embodied experiences of empire. Finally, students will visit the Victoria and Albert Museum to closely examine a series of objects with which East India Company officials returned home. By exploring the material qualities of different chairs, work tables, drawers and candlestands it is hoped that students will question why particular objects were brought home and how they shaped eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britons’ conceptions of empire.
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