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Others Within and Without: Art, India, and Britain’s ‘Internal Colonies’

Britain’s Celtic ‘Others’ have often sought to compare their status to that of its chief Imperial possession: India. In The Country and the City (1973), cultural critic Raymond Williams argued that India’s colonial literature shared equivalences within the “home islands”: “In Britain itself…the colonial process is so far back that it is in effect unrecorded, though there are late consequences of it in the rural literature of Scotland and Wales and especially of Ireland.” Is it legitimate to use the recent history of colonialism to understand the history of what Michael Hechter termed Britain’s ‘internal colonies’? Is there a relationship between ‘internal’ and ‘overseas’ colonies or is Williams over-dramatizing his Welsh experience? How do art and culture shed light on these questions? 

We solicit papers addressing this issue from various perspectives: by examining the colonial past of Britain with regard to one or more of the Celtic nations; by comparing and contrasting an aspect of South Asian artistic practice with work produced in one of the Celtic countries; by thinking about South Asian communities within Britain’s ‘internal colonies’ and their impact on art and/or identity; by exploring the connection between ‘imperial’ and ‘colonised’ subjectivities in ‘internal’ and ‘overseas’ colonies. We also welcome papers that examine how India and the Celtic nations have interacted historically, or how they continue to interact in the present. Does the Imperial legacy live on? Papers which deal with visual art and culture are encouraged, but we are keen to include proposals from outside art history (eg. literature, politics, history, economics).

Session Convenors:

Zehra Jumabhoy, University of Bristol

Daniel G. Williams, Swansea University

Speakers:

Hadi Baghaei Abchooyeh, Swansea University

Odes of the ‘Other’: Mir Qamar al-Din Minnat’s Poetic Depictions of an Englishman, a Scot, and a Welshman in 18th-Century India

This paper proposes to analyse three remarkable qaṣīdas composed by the eminent Persian poet Mir Qamar al-Din Minnat (d.unknown), each dedicated to a notable British figure of the 18th century: the Englishman Richard Johnson (1753-1807), the Scot Warren Hastings (1732-1818), and the Welsh Sir William Jones (1746-1794). These qaṣīdas, found in Minnat’s Divan (BL, Or. 6633), offer a unique lens through which to view the cultural and political dynamics of the time. By comparing the poet’s perspectives on these three distinct national identities, the paper seeks to uncover deeper insights into the cross-cultural interactions and perceptions prevalent in the late Mughal era.

The paper will begin by contextualizing Minnat’s work within the socio-political landscape of 18th-century India, introducing the British figures Johnson, Hastings, and Jones. A detailed examination of each qaṣīda’s structure, language, and thematic elements will follow, alongside an analysis of Minnat’s poetic style and literary techniques. The focus will then shift to investigating how Minnat’s portrayal of these figures reflects broader perceptions of the English, Scots, and Welsh in Mughal India, using cultural and personal symbolism in the poetry. A comparative analysis will provide a side-by-side comparison of the three qaṣīdas, focusing on similarities and differences in depiction. This will include exploring Minnat’s nuanced understanding of each figure’s national identity. The paper will also assess the role of poetry as a medium for diplomatic and cultural exchange, discussing how Minnat’s work contributes to our understanding of Indo-British relations.

Overall, the paper will synthesize the findings to reveal what these qaṣīdas indicate about cross-cultural perceptions and literary exchanges in 18th-century India. It will discuss the broader implications for the study of Persian literature and Indo-British historical narratives.

Friederike Voigt, National Museums Scotland

“The best South Asian holdings outside London”: Opportunity and Challenges in a dependent relationship, 1854 to 2023

The paper compares the life and significance of the South Asian collection at the Scottish National Museum in the second half of the 19th century and in the 21st century. From its founding and over the first thirty years, the Edinburgh Museum, similarly to Dublin, experienced a largely dependent relationship to the South Kensington Museum, London. For example, at the sale of Colonel Guthrie’s collection of Indian jade and rock crystal, the most valuable pieces stayed in London, while Edinburgh was able to afford only a few generic samples of these crafts. Well into the 20th century the Edinburgh Museum seems to have followed the calls of the former imperial centre, such as the exhibition of Asian sculpture for the Royal Asiatic Society’s sesquicentennial celebration. Yet right from the beginning, some independent shaping was possible, from items donated by Scots in the East India Company service; the second register entry, for example, listed 50 specimens of minerals from India presented by Lieutenant Aytoun in October 1855. A challenge to this model became increasingly apparent after the establishment of a Scottish Parliament in 1997. It has become more difficult to continue celebrating (implicitly or explicitly) the Imperial provenance of the South Asian collection; a reconsideration of what these collections mean has become imperative. I illustrate this, using examples of my curatorial efforts to find new ways of making these collections relevant to Scotland in the 21st century.

Eleanor Stephenson, University of Cambridge

Art, Science, and Empire: Captain George Robertson’s Charts for the East India Company’s Maritime Service, 1773 to 1805 

By focusing on a private archive and collection in Scotland, this paper will discuss the role that art and science played in the English East India Company’s Maritime Service, and to that end, illustrate one of the ways Scots contributed to, and benefited from, the British Empire.

In 1773, George Robertson (1760-1844), a young Scot from the Lowlands, joined his older brother on the English East India Company ship, the Bute, as a ‘seaman’, bound for Bengal. Over the next 32 years, Robertson sailed Company ships around the world 10 times, trading cotton, silk, tea, saltpetre, and (illegally) opium between India, China, and Britain. Robertson was not the first in his family to join the Company, nor the last. Indeed, Robertson’s father, three brothers, and five sons, all made their fortunes working in the East Indies, representing the disproportionate number of Scots employed by the Company from the mid-eighteenth. In nowhere were the Scots more prominent than at sea, dominating coastal trade in the Indian Ocean and the China Seas. The charts George Robertson produced, and the skills in art and science required to make them, therefore, typify the role played by educated and itinerant members of the Scottish elite in the history of the East India Company. After he retired from Company service, Robertson inherited vast tracts in the Lowlands, and therefore, instead of buying land he used his fortune to build an art collection, illustrating how colonial wealth shaped domestic culture.

Samuel Raybone, Prifysgol Aberystwyth University

Brushing Against Empire: Foreign Art, National Identity, and Colonialisms in Modern Wales

Wales is often described as ‘England’s First Colony.’ Invaded in the 13th century and formally annexed in the 16th, Welsh language and native traditions were systematically suppressed. By 1886 Wales was considered “merely a geographical expression” (William Basil Jones). The 1888 Encyclopaedia Britannica was even more concise: “WALES, see ENGLAND”.

On the precipice of linguistic, cultural, and national erasure, Wales was reawakened and reinvented through modern Romantic nationalism in the early 20th century. Yet, this revival of Welsh national identity was deeply implicated in British Imperialism. The south Wales coalfield literally fueled the Empire, and leading nationalist thinkers were also ardent Imperialists. National institutions drew upon the Empire’s racializing discourses to define Welshness: the National Museum of Wales, founded in 1905, exhibited and collected ‘Artists of Welsh Birth or Extraction’.

Impressionism was imported to Wales by industrialists wishing to enlighten the toiling masses. Through new research in the Welsh newspaper archives, this paper identifies a distinctively Welsh interpretation of impressionism as profoundly shaped by the nation’s ambivalent experience of Empire. Impressionism’s modernity and foreignness fueled hopes that it would be a catalyst for national self-expression, overturning English colonialism. Yet, impressionist aesthetics also resonated with a racialized idea of the poetic Celtic soul, expressing both the racial mindset of modern Empire and the myths of an independent, medieval Wales they referenced. In Wales, impressionism thus interlaced colonial pasts and synthesized plural experiences of imperialism in the present.

Daniel G. Williams

Zehra Jumabhoy

Internal Colonialism: Mapping the Terrain

(A summative conversation with Session Co-convenors)

‘Internal Colonialism’ is a contentious term. It was popularised by Michael Hechter in his study of the ‘Celtic Fringe’. Hechter was criticised from the outset for his conflation of the ‘Celtic’ nations and his tendency to ignore regional differences within both the ‘centre’ and ‘periphery’. A number of sociological and historical studies emerged to systematically discredit Hechter’s hypothesis.

And yet, the term continues to hold scholarly sway. Having dismissed the salience of internal colonialism to Welsh history, Gwyn A. Williams noted that “it is often very perceptive in terms of its analysis of the psychological consequences of the rapid advance of capitalism over the globe”. Having rejected the internal colonialism thesis’ relevance to Scotland, David McCrone accepts that “its power is that of metaphor rather than explanatory concept”. In his accounts of Indian nationalism, Partha Chatterjee argued that “the greater one’s success in imitating Western skills in the material domain” of the economy, of statecraft, of science and technology, “the greater the need to preserve the distinctness of one’s spiritual culture”. Internal Colonialism may be a useful model for describing this process of cultural resistance in the face of socio-economic domination.

This panel has attempted to test the valency of labelling India, Wales and Scotland as ‘England’s colonies’. This summative paper will explore some of the ideas that have been shared, assessing what they imply for the usefulness, or otherwise, of comparing England’s internal and external colonies, especially in the context of visual culture. Can the invisible, submerged aspects of ethnicity become a basis for comparative, inter-national study? How is that ‘submerged’, ‘spiritual’ culture represented in art?

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