Ethnographic empire: knowledge and power in colonial northeast India, 1870-1940


As the British colonial state expanded into portions of upland northeast India from the late 1860s, the region became quickly established as a hotspot of ethnographic enquiry. The surveyor Robert Woodthorpe was a key figure, whose intensive encounters with hill communities from 1871 until his death in 1898 led to a large corpus of sketches and a substantial collection of photographs and objects. Drawing on his material now housed at the Pitt Rivers Museum, this seminar focuses on Woodthorpe’s production of ethnographic images and writings, along with the means and results of their dissemination. It examines how the visual and textual representations of Woodthorpe and his contemporaries were marked by diversity and dissensus, and interrogates the significance of ethnography to a violent and fitfully acquisitive empire. Woodthorpe’s work on the Naga community was also put to use by a later generation of administrator-anthropologists in the decades after the First World War. The seminar investigates how ethnographic material was collected and adapted over time, and argues that upland people were active agents within this process.

VMMA-Pitt Rivers Museum SeminarSeries Michaelmas 2018

Pitt Rivers Museum Lecture Theatre (off Robinson Close)

Fridays at 1pm (Weeks 1-8)

Convened by Gemma Angel and Marcus Banks