Monthly Archives: November 2014


Tuesday 18th November 2014

Nellist Room (Room 1.28), 19 Abercromby Square

Professor Nilanjana Gupta, Jadavpur University

Professor Gupta’s paper explored the history of the Calcutta Madrasah instituted by Warren Hastings, first Governor General of Bengal (1772-1785) in 1781. As the first institute of learning set up by the British, Professor Gupta discussed the site as representing a myriad of encounters. The history was said to be complex involving shifts of power between the East India Company, educated Muslim populations and the relative power of languages within the city and the court. Her paper was set in contrast to readings of this institution simply as part of anglicist and oriental debates.

Professor Gupta introduced the role of the Madrasah prior to the British project. These centres of learning, across India were important sites for knowledge transmission for both Hindu and Muslim scholars. Gupta highlighted that the role of oral methods of education within these institutions needed to be recognised. As with the training of classical Indian music and dance, these processes established primarily orally-transmitted methods of education through activity and imitation. From archival records from the old Madrasah syllabus, it was noted that aside from the study of scriptures, the teaching of law was focal. The institution acted as a judicial feeder integrated with Calcutta’s legal institutions.

Against this background, Gupta detailed Hasting’s minute of 1781 calling for the Company’s support in the establishment of a Madrasah. The minute requested provision for 40 scholars, ‘musselmen of credit and learning’ each to be provided with stipends. Gupta commented that there was a tendency to believe that Madrasahs were segregated but rather they were originally mixed with both Hindo and Muslim students. Through the establishment of the Madrasah and Asiatic Society in 1784, Gupta stated that the British institutionalised this separation.

Sir Charles D’Oyly ‘Views of Calcutta and its Environs’ , 1848

Sir Charles D’Oyly ‘Views of Calcutta and its Environs’ , 1848

The formalisation of education was instigated. Reforms outlined by Captain Irwin introduced public examinations which contributed to the establishment of a modern education system in Calcutta. The development of these structures under the British Government was noted. Enquiry commissions and reports scrutinised the Madrasah. Details from a report published in 1819, cited the ‘poverty of books’ and determined that ‘7000 rupees’ were required for a proper library. Other initiatives to introduce an Anglo-Arabic department failed. Such was the critique that in 1835 Macaulay stated, ‘I would abolish the Madrasah’.

The paper concluded with a discussion of the impact of the space and its continued presence in the city as Aliah University. Attention was draw to the successful graduate Abdul Latif. The following discussions considered the British understanding and interpretation of religion in Calcutta. The writings of William Jones provided a reference point which demonstrated Islam as more accessible for the British. The process of oral learning and visual narratives was reflected upon.

On 7 November 2014 Presidency University witnessed two launches, a lecture and a demonstration all concerning the Dutch presence in India, and more specifically in Bengal. Professor Anuradha Lohia, Vice-Chancellor, Presidency University was present, along with Mr. Namit Shah, the Honorary Consul of the Netherlands Embassy in Kolkata. Professor Lohia inaugurated the ‘Dutch in Chinsurah’ website, which, as the tagline says, is ‘a digital exploration of the Dutch influence in colonial Bengal in the 18th and 19th centuries’. Dr. Bauke Van der Pol’s book, The Dutch East India Company in India was launched at the event.

Dr. Bauke Van der Pol on the VOC in India

Dr. Bauke Van der Pol on the VOC in India

The twin-launch was accompanied by a lecture by Professor van der Pol and a demonstration of the website along with commentary by Dr. Souvik Mukherjee.

Dutch V.O.C. factory in Hoegly (Hugli-Chuchura, Bengal)(Hendrik van Schuylenburgh, 1665)

Dutch V.O.C. factory in Hoegly (Hugli-Chuchura, Bengal)(Hendrik van Schuylenburgh, 1665)

Dr. Van der Pol’s lecture offered a background to the presence of the Dutch in India. He explained how six states in the Netherlands combined to form the ‘Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie’, or the ‘United East India Company’, in 1602, and how it spread through India, Malaysia and beyond. Dr. Van der Pol offered a survey, rich in visual illustrations, of the various Dutch settlements in India: Kochi, Masulipatnam (Machilipatnam), Sadraspatnam, Tuticorin (Thoothukudi), Nagapattinam, and elsewhere. Among the places in Bengal, it is in Chinsurah that we find probably the greatest remnants of the Dutch presence. The Dutch had settled in Chinsurah in the first decades of the 17th century and had vacated around the 1820s. The Dutch in Chinsurah were also the first to venture into women’s education, Dr. Van der Pol informed us. He also explained the architecture of the Dutch colonial houses—the bull’s eye, and the stoep, or a kind of pavement extension of a house, that can still be found in various parts of India, especially in Kochi, but often go unrecognized as such. Along with streets-names such as Lily Street or Rose Street, there is also the Peterselie Street in Fort Kochi, often misidentified as the name of some Dutch inhabitant. Dr. Van der Pol explained how it fits in with the Dutch practice of naming streets after flowers or plants, and that Peterselie is in fact the Dutch word for ‘Parsley’. He left the audience hanging with the promise of a short presentation on the visit of the first Dutch prince of Orange to India in 1837.

Dr. Souvik Mukherjee

Dr. Souvik Mukherjee explains the Dutch in Chinsurah website

Dr. Souvik Mukherjee, who has led the team that worked on the Dutch in Chinsurah project, introduced the website and gave us an idea of what one is to expect from it. He spoke of the shifting of the first, the Old Cemetery, to the New Cemetery in Chinsurah, which led to the erasure of about a century’s worth of records—between 1620 and approximately 1750. He took the audience on a tour of the most interesting names buried in the cemetery—and the most intriguing architecture. The cemetery has been geo-tagged by the team with startling precision, and someone navigating the website will be able to locate on a map the exact point at which someone rests, and find thereupon a great deal of information surrounding the grave, including biographical detail, associated images, so on. The “Digital Humanities approach” should be of interest to both, humanists and to those interested in the digital aspects. Milinda Banerjee, who has worked on the project as a historian, also spoke a few words over Skype about his involvement. The amount of data that is available on the website is commendable and the manner in which it is organized is also extremely user-friendly.

At the end, Dr. Van der Pol returned to make his brief presentation on the visit of the Prince of Orange, and showed several paintings that were made by the men who were waiting on the vessel and had viewed the city, or cities, from the river. He gave a brief account of the visit, but promised that much more will be available in his next book which is on this very subject.

Dr. Van der Pol ended with a few images and comments on the works of two Dutch architects in India, Pierre Cuypers (1897) and Willem Dudok (1936). Dudok, he informed us, was behind the designing of the Lighthouse cinema in Kolkata and of the enormous building right next to it, at the junction of Bertram Street and Lindsay Street.

The event came to an end on that note, but for those who are interested in the European presence along the river-front in Bengal, this is just a beginning.

You can view the website at

AAH New Voices Conference

Friday 7th November 2014

Wellcome Collection and Birkbeck College, University of London

A Picture of Health: Representations and Imaginations of Wellbeing and Illness addressed the relationship between art and health across different historical periods and disciplines. Focusing on the recently emerged Medical Humanities, the conference attracted a series of scholars working with images and art objects to explore the culture of medicine, illness and health.

Hosted by the Association of Art Historians, the schedule included a range of PhD candidates exploring the themes through art practice and history. Ross MacFarlane (Research Engagement Officer, Wellcome Library) opened the morning with an introduction to the Wellcome Library resources. Founded on the collections of Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853-1936), the library provides a diverse collection of materials for the study of medical history. Developed during the late 1890s, the collection includes archives, manuscripts and art and material culture relating to the history of medicine, alchemy, witchcraft, anthropology and ethnography. Since 2010, the library has been engaged in a large scale digitalisation project providing global access to its collections for researchers. This can be accessed through the online catalogue.

The first panel: Illness, Class and Race included three papers from Amy Robson (Plymouth University) Class Contagions and Canine Culprits: Rabid Representations and the Middle Class Imagination in Victorian Britain, Cleo Roberts (University of Liverpool) Health and The Ganges: Imperial Representations of Illness and Death and Samuel Raybone (Courtauld Institute of Art) The pathological working-class body: Charles Negre and the Asile imperial de Vincennes in the French Second Empire.

Cleo Roberts presented her research on The Ganges as a site of conflicted notions of health, illness and wellbeing during the 19th century. The paper used a selection of images including items from the Wellcome Trust Collection and British Library read in conjunction with political, medical and religious texts to argue that the representations of sickness and ill-health in and along the Ganges formed part of an animated Baptist missionary campaign. The anglicising of ‘Hindoo’ practices surrounding the river were said to reveal disjunct ideological approaches to the water. Deemed ‘ghaut murders’, images such as Marshall Claxton’s oil submitted to the Royal Academy National Exhibition 1857 evidenced the finality attached to these acts. The paper concluded that the misconception of these health rituals gave insight into the river as a formative part of the British Empire in India.

The conference included three other panels and a key note address from Dr Suzannah Biernoff (Birkbeck College) The ruptured portrait: war and the aesthetics of disfigurement. The paper explored the First World War production of portrait masks for disfigured servicemen in relation to contemporary depictions of conflict in popular culture. Situated in a culture of dramatisation, the paper argued that the work of American photographer Nina Berman was an exception. Her portraits of veterans were said to challenge narratives of sacrifice, courage and redemption.

Panel Two: Photography and the Clinical Encounter

Agnese Sile (University of Aberdeen): Voicing the Unspeakable – Dialogue and Dialectic Space in Dorothea Lynch and Eugene Richard’s photo essay Exploding into Life
Maija Tammi (Aalto University, Helsinki): Gallstone in a Gallery: Image as AbjectPat Walton (University of Cumbria): Chronic pain within a family context: an art project informed by lived experience

Panel Three: Art as Therapy

Martin Beaulieu (L’Université du Québec, Montréal): The National Film Board of Canada and the Theraputic Film: the Creation of the series Mental Mechanisms
Imogen Wiltshire (University of Birmingham): Exhibiting The Arts in Therapy: The Museum of Modern Art and Rehabilitation During the Second World War

Panel four: Faces of Pain

Danny Rees (Wellcome Trust): Duchenne and ‘electric’ emotions
Gary Haines (Birkbeck, University of London): A Purchase Made a Debt Repaid: The representation in the Imagination of the Blinded British Soldier of the First World War