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Image, Empire, Ideology: Colonialism and Its Fields of Vision in South Asia


Admission requirements

  • BA in any field of study (History/Anthroplogy/Literature/Art History/ Asian Studies)

  • No language requirements


How were colonial empires imagined, and imaged? Does aesthtics produce power and vice versa? In what ways can readings of image, empire and ideology re-frame understandings of colonialism?

This course will reflect upon encounters, mechanisms, imaginations and interventions that constitute the “fields of vision” of colonialism in Asia. Using cultural material from South Asian colonies from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-twentieth century, the course will discuss wider Asian resonances of colonialism’s cultural politics, both by encouraging comparative perspectives across Asian contexts and familiaristing students with theoretical literature on colonialism and visual representation at large.

The idea of “cultural encounter” will be problematised by opening up questions of co-constitution of the colony and the metropolis, flows of images, technologies, subjects, artefacts, as wel as frames of viewing itself. The course will expose students to a range of visual material- travel sketches, caricatures, photographs, decorative arts, paintings, documentaries, as well as practices of collecting, exhibiting, performance and display. Alongside the archives of visual sources, the course will elaborate on the ideological frames of Utilitarianism, Romanticism, Orientalism, Pan-Asianism and Nationalism that connected cultural production with the wider political imaginaries of colonialism. Issues of race, power, gender and rutual will be discussed, alongside those of aesthetics, affect and agencies of colonial imagery. In the process, the categories of imperial, vernacular, indigenous and modernity itself will be opened up for critical reflection.

The course will be structured on a cross-cultural and inter-disciplinary methodology, combining perspectives from art history, anthropology and history, and students will be expected to engage with texts and visuals across colonial contexts in Asia. Works of some of the leading cultural and postcolonial theorists like Edward Said, Homi Bhabha, Gayatri Spivak, Timothy Mitchell, Achille Mbembe and Nicholas Thomas will be brought into discussion.

Course objectives

Participants of the course will acquire the following skills:

  • Understandings of the cultural politics of colonialism.

  • Understandings of the inter-connectedness of visual cultures across colonial contexts in Asia.

  • Understandings of the complex modes of global cultural encounter and identity formations.

  • Theoretical and analytical tools for reading cultural histories of empires.

  • Historiography of cultural histories of colonialism.

  • Research skills and methodological skills in reading visual texts, compositional skills, and interdisciplinary approach to cultural material.



Mode of instruction

  • Seminar/ tutorial (depending on number of students)

Course Load

Assessment method

  • Oral presentations in class: 20% (from final grade)

  • Mid-term essay: 40% (from final grade)

  • End-term Research paper: 40% (from final grade)



Reading list

To be announced

For background reading:
Students could familiarise themselves with the Introductory Chapters of the following texts:

  • Bernard Cohn, Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge, Princeton, 1996.

  • Beth Tobin, Picturing Imperial Power, Duke, 1999.

  • Nicholas Dirks, Colonialism and Culture, Michigan, 1992.

  • Nicholas Thomas, Colonialism’s Culture, London, 1994.

  • Tim Barringer, Colonialism and the object: empire, material culture and the museum, London, 19

  • Thomas Metcalf, Ideologies of the Raj, London, 1997.


Enrollment via uSis

Registration Contractonderwijs

Registration Contractonderwijs

Contact information

Mw. Dr. S. Sunderason