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Visual Rhetoric and modern South Asian history (2015-16)

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This course offers practical and theoretical approaches to old and new media literacies required when exploring the visual dimension of modern South Asian history. It examines the importance of theories of visual culture to teaching modern South Asian history and aims to introduce 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 visual collections held by the Centre of South Asian Studies and by the Royal Commonwealth Society Collections (UL).

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, 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 lecture 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.

Course Schedule Eight weekly classes scheduled in Lent 2016. Each lecture is organized thematically and consists of introduction and discussion of the respective theme and related screenings followed by open discussion. This course module is open to all those studying or with an interest in modern South Asian history and visual culture.

Time and Location: S2 Seminar Room (S3 seminar room for lecture on 1 February), 4:00 – 5:00pm, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Rd, Cambridge, CB3 9DP .

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