James Fergusson, Illustrations of the Rock-Cut Temples of India: Selected from the Best Examples of the Different Series of Caves at Ellora, Ajunta, Cutta, Salsette, Karli, and Mahavellipore. London: John Weale, 1845.
Beginning in the 1830s Scottish architect James Fergusson (1808-1886) began an exhaustive architectural tour of the Indian subcontinent. He visited different sites and monuments, sketching and writing about the places he had seen. Using a camera lucida, he aspired to produce illustrations that were not only visually appealing as landscape images, but were also “truthful” from a documentary perspective. In 1845 Fergusson left India never to return, but began to write an architectural history of the subcontinent. Illustrations of the Rock-Cut Temples of India was his first published work on India.
Fergusson’s architectural history positioned architecture and its associated sculpture as the only sources that could produce a scientific study of the history of India. Fergusson claimed that architecture could “explain” the ethnological relations of India’s different people, represent India’s religions, and fill in for India’s lack of a written history. His scholarship, though convinced of the moral superiority of the British, was nevertheless unique in the nineteenth century for he wholly systematized the architecture of India for the first time. He also developed a system based on classificatory categories for Indian architecture, races, geography, and religions. His scholarship was the product of a distinctly colonial mentality, but his vision of India’s architectural history continues to pique scholars’ interest today.
Sara Miller McCune Collection
Thomas Pennant, The View of Hindoostan. London: Henry Hughes, 1798.
Thomas Pennant (1726-1798) was a British traveler, naturalist, and antiquarian. Near the end of his life Pennant planned to write a 15-volume natural history series “Outlines of the Globe,” but died before he was able to complete the project. His two-volume work The View of Hindoostan was part of this series. Pennant never traveled to India, but used the writings and illustrations of other authors including William Hodges and Thomas Daniell to produce a natural history of India.
Natural histories such as Pennant’s reveal the British preoccupation with the collection and acquisition of knowledge about a territorial space. Pennant’s work invoked the metaphor of travel to describe India: he described different geographical locations as if one were navigating through the space. Featured in the work are various kinds of imagery including maps and landscapes as well as flora, fauna, and wildlife. While cartography and surveying were important aspects of the colonial project, works like Pennant’s natural history included these representations in addition to textual descriptions, which appealed to the imaginations of people back in England.
Sara Miller McCune Collection
Robert Orme, A History of the Military Transactions of the British Nation, 1780.
Historian Robert Orme 1728-1801 was born in India and served in the East India Company. He moved to England in 1760, publishing historical works on India that were greatly admired. A History of the Military Transactions of the British Nation, published in two parts, was based on information Orme had collected during his time in India.
Orme’s history is a fascinating early British work that engages with the military history of India by using a territorial perspective; maps feature as part of the narrative. In fact Orme had requested maps of Bengal from none other than Robert Clive, the Governor of Bengal. Clive presented Orme with maps from the well-known naval officer turned surveyor James Rennell, who had produced the earliest general survey of colonial India. Rennell’s maps were modeled after military reconnaissance. He used geographical locations to gesture to the political situation in Bengal. Orme’s inclusion of the maps in his history demonstrates the significance of representation when conceptualizing the colonial project. His history is an important example of a study of Indian civilization that would later form the basis for the civilizing mission of British colonialists in India.
UCSB Library Collection (DS462 .O73 1780), Gift of Sara Miller McCune