Tranquebar—Whose History? Transnational Cultural Heritage in a Former Danish Trading Colony in South India
Helle Jørgensen
140 x 216 mm
Year of Publishing
Territorial Rights
Orient BlackSwan

Tranquebar, a small fishing town on the coast of Tamil Nadu, was a Danish trading colony from 1620 to 1845. In recent years, the drive to develop it into a heritage destination has generated large-scale conservation and restoration efforts aimed at preserving the monuments of the town’s colonial past

Alongside the proliferation of surveys and development plans, manifold agents including local and state-level authorities, private entrepreneurs, researchers, NGOs, and tourists—Danish and Indian—congregate in the town. Yet the townscape also sets the scene for the everyday lives and concerns of the local inhabitants. Tranquebar—Whose History? explores the significances of cultural heritage in this small town, revealing the multiple attachments to, uses of, and negotiations around the townscape and its histories in daily life, tourism, research and heritage development.

The discussion moves from the differing motivations attending local and transnational constructions of Tranquebar as a remote location, and the sometimes contradictory expectations from development; the conflicting attitudes to modernity and notions of aesthetics among various stakeholders; to shifting constructions of history in which Tranquebar emerges as a postcolony, caught between colonial nostalgia, collective memory and contemporary narrations of anti-conquest.

This volume will be useful to those engaged in anthropology, history, postcolonial studies and cultural studies. It will also be of interest to students of heritage and tourism, heritage practitioners and to the general reader.

Helle Jørgense lectures at the Department of Culture and Society, Aarhus University, Denmark

List of Figures


List of Abbreviations

Map of India

Map of Tamil Nadu

Introduction: Studying the Transnational Construction of Heritage in Tranquebar

  1. Heritage Development and the Mental Geographies of Remoteness
  2. The (Im)materialities of Constructing Heritage
  3. History in a Postcolony

Conclusion: Whose History? The Emergence of a Heritage Palimpsest




Book review | Published in The Hindu, New Delhi 20 Jan 2014.

‘How does a relatively sleepy fishing village in Tamil Nadu get transformed into an “official” heritage destination? Helle Jørgensen offers a fascinating account of this process, taking the townscape of Tranquebar and its meaning for different stakeholders as its object of study. The result is a theoretically informed and empirically rich ethnographic study told not only through the story of national and transnational development of the built environment, but—more importantly—through the everyday life of the town itself.’

Saloni Mathur, Department of Art History University of California at Los Angeles

‘It is rare to hear about the Danish colonial past and still rarer to have such a rich, in-depth study of the contested “afterlife” of such heritage as Helle Jørgensen provides here. Her study of the former Danish colony of Tranquebar is of value not only for South Asian history but also for understanding the transnational complexities of postcolonial heritage more widely.’

Sharon Macdonald, Department of Sociology The University of York.

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