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Visual rhetoric and modern South Asian history

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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 draws extensively on the unique collection of colonial amateur films held by the Centre of South Asian Studies and so promotes the use of this film genre in the history and media studies curriculum.

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 archival visual material. Films, photographs (occasionally paintings) and also interviews are selected primarily from the Centre of South Asian Studies’ archive as well as from 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, the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum, Images of Empire, Colonial Film and British Pathé.

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

Course Schedule Eight one-hour weekly classes scheduled in Michaelmas Term. Each class is organized thematically and consists of introduction and discussion of the respective theme and related screenings followed by open discussion.

Time and Location: Tuesdays at 4:00 pm in S1 Seminar Room, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DP .


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