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Displaying India’s Heritage describes the history of museum-making in the Indian subcontinent in the 1800s and 1900s with special emphasis on the experience of Bengal. It details the connection between the museum movement and the broader political and cultural environment of the time.
The central discussion focuses on the colonial Indian Museum in Calcutta, which began as a natural history collection and soon became a repository of archaeological artefacts from across the subcontinent. The emerging contest between imperialism and nationalism shaped the visualisation in the display boxes here. In describing this history, the book also highlights the complex relationship between knowledge and power.
During the period of high nationalism, when regional histories—often blended with mythical narratives—became popular, scientific history writing placed an emphasis on archaeological knowledge. Local museums began asserting their right over excavated artefacts and princely states presented the pre-eminent position of their families through palace museums; through these histories of provincial and local museums, the book shows how museum-making was intimately tied to competing political loyalties and identities. It presents a convincing case to consider museums as a modern public sphere where the territorial and cultural bases of nationhood were negotiated.
Issuing from strong archival research, Displaying India’s Heritage draws a connection between the ‘culture of history’—constituted by the knowledge of history and the historical imagination of people—and a series of individual endeavours in history-writing, collecting and museum-building. This volume will interest students of modern Indian cultural history, museology, archaeology and cultural studies.
Madhuparna Roychowdhury is Assistant Professor in the Department of Ancient Indian History and Culture, University of Calcutta, Kolkata.
List of Images
Introduction: Museums in History
1. The Culture of History
2. Indian Museum: The First 100 Years
3. Archaeology and Museum-Making in Colonial India
4. Archaeology in the Indian Museum
5. History-Men and Museum-Makers: Bengal in the Early-Twentieth Century
6. ‘Locality, Province and the Nation’: The Museum Story