Domesticating the Raj

Andrew Schumacher Bethke, University of Minnesota

In this paper, I examine an extraordinary document that presents an English view of India and an implicit, aestheticized defense of British colonialism. From 1894 to 1895, Millicent Pilkington was a tourist in India, circulating around Hyderabad and Ootacamund. Over the course of her trip, she produced multiple watercolors, collected mementos, and wrote brief notes about her time, which were collected into a lavishly decorated travel album. In addition to being a rare and remarkable object in its own right, I argue that Pilkington’s album provides insight into the ways in which the English imagined India and justified their domination of it. The majority of the album is taken up by visual and textual portrayals of India as a fundamentally white, English space. Much of her time was taken up with fellow Britons and the activities of the English countryside, including dances, hunts, and sports. To the observer, Pilkington’s India looks very much like a trip to a provincial location in Britain. This is the first sense in which the album domesticated the Raj, by insisting on its familiarity. The second sense is that, when Indians or “exotic” scenes are portrayed, they are literally framed by English aesthetic designs and thus domesticated and tamed into an aesthetic form that was familiar to English viewers. Taken together, this work of representation and domestication paints India as not an exotic colony to be subjugated or feared, but an integral part of English space and identity.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 233. Negotiating Imperial and Racial Identities and Spaces in Albums and Scrapbooks