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Visual Rhetoric and modern South Asian history (2014)

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This course is open to all those studying or with an interest in modern South Asian history and visual culture.

The course examines the importance of theories of visual culture to teaching modern South Asian history. It introduces Cambridge University academics, students and researchers of South Asia to media research skills required when exploring the ideologies conveyed by the visual dimension of South Asia’s modern history. It also surveys critical debates about the complementarity between traditional text-based historiography and visual literacy.

The course covers South Asian history from 1860s onwards and examines the visual constructions of space, culture, gender and race relevant to the areas of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Himalayas. Moreover, it offers a critical overview of how South Asian history and cultural identities have been (mis-) represented across specific visual narratives, from paintings, drawings, posters, advertisements to amateur films, documentaries, newsreels, feature, ethnographic and animation films. Each seminar explores a selection of such visuals in relation to key events and social developments in modern South Asian history. Occasionally, interview excerpts selected from the Centre of South Asian Studies’ oral history archive complement the visual case studies.

The ‘Visual rhetoric and modern South Asian history’ course inscribes the use of archival visual and aural records within current theoretical, methodological and historical frameworks concerned with key debates and themes in modern South Asian history. It draws on the often conflicting relation between established historiography and visual culture with its inherent potential for confirming or challenging traditional text-based research resources. The course expands the debate about traditional means of historical investigation and develops a comparative framework in which the participants compare written documents with a variety of visual records pertinent to particular themes and topics.

Each class provides access to a wide selection of visual material such as paintings, drawings, advertisements, films, photographs, examples of social media, and interviews selected from the archives held by several major British repositories such as the British Film Institute, the Imperial War Museum, the British Library, the British Museum, the Royal Commonwealth Society Library, as well as the Centre of South Asian Studies (Cambridge), the Colonial Film Database and British Pathé.

The course is taught by Dr Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes, research fellow at Clare Hall, and affiliated lecturer and research associate at the Centre of South Asian Studies.

This course is part of the ‘Visual Language and South Asian History’ Programme led by Dr Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes. The Programme also includes the annual seminar series ‘Visual Constructions of South Asia’ (University of Cambridge,, the annual course and workshop ‘Visual Rhetoric and South Asian gender studies’ (in collaboration with the Centre for Women’s Development Studies and Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi), the annual course and workshop ‘Teaching and learning modern South Asian history with visual research methods’ (in collaboration with the Azim Premji Foundation and University, Bangalore), and the ‘Tamil Societies and (In-)Visibility’ project (in collaboration with La Fondation Maison des sciences de l’homme, Paris, the Madras Institute for Development Studies, Chennai, and the South Asia Institute at the University of Texas at Austin).

Course Schedule: Weekly classes scheduled in Michaelmas Term from 14th October to 2nd December 2014. Each class is organized thematically and consists of introduction and discussion of the respective theme and related screenings followed by a round table discussion.

Time and Location: Tuesdays, 4:30 – 6:00p.m. in S3 Seminar Room, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DP .

For further information and booking contact: amm230 @

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