Conjuring India: British Views of the Subcontinent, 1780-1870

 British Views of the Subcontinent, 1780-1870Western encounters with the Indian subcontinent date back to the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and reached new heights in the seventeenth century when the age of exploration and the quest for riches inspired foreign travel.
British merchants and aristocrats established the East India Company (EIC) in 1600 and were granted a royal charter by Queen Elizabeth to set out and foster trade relations with India. Competing with other European powers, a steady stream of British colonialists seeking fortune and adventure flocked to India throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
A series of military and economic victories in the late eighteenth century positioned the EIC as the dominant foreign power in the Indian subcontinent. British colonialists laid claim not only to the treasures of India, but also to the geographical space; they continued to increase their holdings in the nineteenth century. Company control persisted in India until the mid-nineteenth century when a widespread native rebellion brought its dominance to a close. In 1858 power shifted to the British Government, ushering in the era of the British Raj which lasted until 1947.
British colonialists were a diverse population. Artists, merchants, soldiers, aristocrats, surveyors, and academics were among the many who were drawn to India. They had a lively appetite for the beauty and exoticism of India’s people and places. Conjuring India: British Views of the Subcontinent, 1780–1870 examines the different perspectives of this heterogeneous group. These colonialists conquered the space of India through representations; they conjured different visions of the exotic and foreign people and the places they observed, thereby transforming India into a legible space. Books from the collection of Sara Miller McCune provide access to these varied representations. These works were created by some of the most eminent historical figures of the colonial age.
Among the representations in the exhibition are travel narratives, picturesque illustration, surveys, military studies, ethnographic inquires, and histories. Together these works reveal how colonial India was produced through divergent views and perspectives. They speak to the great diversity of the colonial experience in India and provide a window into the art and culture of the era. These works and the perspectives they represent continue to inspire and dazzle viewers to this day.
Click on the links below to explore the exhibition.
Photograph from Samuel Bourne, Photograph Album, circa 1870.