Exploring modern South Asian history with visual research methods: theories and practices

15 March 2013 - 16 March 2013

CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DT


Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes  (University of Cambridge)
Marcus Banks (University of Oxford)

Pre-conference Seminar Series

As a preamble to the conference, the Centre of South Asian Studies is organising a seminar series that will introduce the theme of the conference. Several historians and anthropologists will discuss a selection of ethnographic / anthropological films of South Asia in relation to current historiographical methodologies. The series is organised in collaboration with the Royal Anthropological Institute and CRASSH. To find out more, please click here.

Conference Summary

This conference aims to investigate the ways in which visual research methods support the development of new perspectives on modern South Asian history. It will explore the strategies employed by historians and scholars of visual (digital) culture and visual anthropology when incorporating representations of South Asian history within the framework of traditional historical scholarship. Also, the role of interdisciplinary research in terms of producing, distributing, re-interpreting and repatriating visual records of South Asian history will be assessed throughout several roundtable discussions.

The conference will create for the first time the opportunity to strengthen the network of historians, anthropologists, visual and digital scholars and artists concerned with the re-examination of modern South Asian history across visual records. It proposes four themes of investigation that will support new scholarly developments:

  • digital humanities and issues of South Asian history, visuality and ethnographic enquiry

  • theories of visual anthropology relevant to historiographical research of South Asia

  • examples of historical scholarship strengthened by visual research methodologies

  • historical and anthropological practices replicated in visual artwork inspired by South Asian history

Keynote addresses will be delivered by Professor Marcus Banks (University of Oxford) and by Professor Christopher Pinney (University College London). Papers, panels and roundtable discussions led by international scholars such as Denis Vidal (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris), Dr Clare Harris (University of Oxford) and Professor Ravi Vasudevan (CSDS, Delhi) will explore new perspectives on visual research methods and modern South Asian history. Also, there will be three exclusive presentations by the renowned visual artists Pushpamala N., Rajkamal Kahlon and Ayisha Abraham. The opening address will be delivered by Professor Sir C.A. Bayly, Director of the Centre of South Asian Studies.



Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CRASSH), the Centre of South Asian Studies and the Smuts Memorial Fund at the University of Cambridge and the Thriplow Charitable Trust.

Accommodation for delegates

We are unable to arrange accommodation, however, the following websites may be of help.

Visit Cambridge
Cambridge Rooms
University of Cambridge accommodation webpage

NB. CRASSH is not able to help with the booking of accommodation.


Administrative assistance: conferences@crassh.cam.ac.uk


Location : CRASSH

Date : 15-16 March 2013

Friday 15 March


9.00 -9.30



Welcome and Introduction: Marcus Banks (University of Oxford) and Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes (University of Cambridge)


Session 1

  • Imma Ramos (University of Cambridge): An Icon of National Crisis: the Myth of the Shakti Pithas and its Representation from the Nineteenth-century Onwards
  • Rianne Siebenga (Utrecht University): The ‘nautch girl’ in magic lantern shows and film (1870-1914)
  • Rosie Thomas (University of Westminster):Trilbies and Thrills: excavating the Wadia Movietone archive

Chair: Shruti Kapila (University of Cambridge)


Coffee break


Keynote Address

  • Christopher Pinney (University College London): Once upon a time in Central India




Session 2

  • Shakuntala Banaji (LSE, London): Visualising society, politicising fiction: class, youth and media in India
  • Ayisha Abraham (Bangalore): Passages in Light and Dark
  • Susan Aasman (University of Groningen): 'I for India' - The Home Movie as Visual Record. Towards an integrated (social) media approach 

Chair: Matthew McCartney (University of Oxford)


Coffee break


Session 3

  • Ravi Vasudevan (SARAI, Delhi): In India's Life and Part of It. Burmah Shell and genealogies of the Indian documentary
  • Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes (University of Cambridge):Visual rhetoric & perspectives on modern South Asian history
  • Denis Vidal (IRD/URMIS-Paris Diderot): Did 'tribals' ever like 'tribal' art? Another perspective about visual culture in India

Chair: Shakuntala Banaji (LSE London)




Session 4

Screening and presentation by Pushpamala N.: National Pudding and Indigenous Salad, Indian Lady, Return of Phantom Lady and The Passion. 





Saturday 16 March 



Session 5

Screening and discussion: Unravelling (dir. Kuldip Powar, 2008, 17min)


Session 6

  • Rajkamal Kahlon (NY): When you are the Indian in a country of John Waynes
  • Aparna M. Kumar (University of California, Los Angeles): Lines of Inquiry: Partition, Historiography and the Art of Zarina Hashmi 
  • Natalia Di Pietrantonio (Cornell University):Courtesan Imagery in the Early Modern Subcontinent

Chair: Simeon Koole (University of Oxford)


 Coffee break


 Keynote Address

  • Marcus Banks (University of Oxford): Slow research: mining one's own archive




Session 7

  • Natasha S. Raheja (New York University): Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf and the Genre of Ethnographic Film
  • Siddharth Pandey (University of Cambridge): Perceiving a Space, Producing a Place: Understanding the Politics of Iconography in the Evolution of British India's 'Little England', Simla
  • Alison Kahn (Oxford Brookes) and Vibha Joshi (University of Oxford): Activating the Archive: a tablet technology to create pathways through the archive of Ursula Graham Bower

Chair: Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes (University of Cambridge) & Catherine Repussard (Université de Strasbourg)


 Coffee Break


Session 8

  • Simeon Koole (University of Oxford): Photography in the British (De)territorialisation of Tibet, 1873-1914
  • Clare Harris (University of Oxford): The Imperial Archive and its Avatars
  • Elisabetta Iob (University of London): Beyond the documentary end of history: archives, advertisements, images and the socio-cultural everyday history of Pakistan, 1947-1962 

Chair: Imma Ramos (University of Cambridge)


Closing Statement

Prof. Sir C.A Bayly (Director CSAS, University of Cambridge)