Session 1: Fashioning Identities

Misha Ewen (University of Manchester): At the Edge of Empire? Women’s Collections in Seventeenth-Century Newfoundland

In this paper, I will explore what a collection of artefacts can tell us about how women sought to fashion an English imperial identity or ‘imperial imaginary’ in the early modern Atlantic world. I will examine the collection of sisters Lady Sara Kirke and Lady Frances Hopkins, two of the largest plantation owners in seventeenth-century Newfoundland. Archaeologists have excavated a number of artefacts that were displayed in the Kirke household parlour, including a bird skull and ‘exotic’ ceramics such as a Martaban storage jar, northern Italian slipware and Portuguese terra sigillata, as well as fragments of Portuguese faience vessels decorated with the sisters’ initials: SK and FH. Archaeologists have considered the significance of the Portuguese faience vessels in relation to Kirke’s and Hopkins’s embeddedness within transatlantic commercial networks, but there has been no consideration of what their collection of naturalia and artificialia, alongside sugar tongs, a tobacco box, and Chinese porcelain, tells us about women’s power and their projection of imperial desire at the ‘periphery’ rather than in the ‘metropole’.

This paper uses gender and material culture as a lens through which to understand what Alison Games has described as early modern ‘cosmopolitanism’. Although Kirke and Hopkins were situated in a sea-locked realm of the nascent English Empire, they were important nodes in commercial networks that allowed them access to goods through which they conveyed English desire for global exotica, in the process self-fashioning as elite and cultivated property-owners. They were connected women at the edge of empire. 

Moreover, the aesthetic of the objects in their possession, including tin glazed ceramics decorated with ‘exotic’ flora and flora, speak to the ways that early modern colonists sought to subjugate ‘Others’ and the material world that they encountered in the ‘New World’ and elsewhere. Women’s imperial power, which is often inconspicuous in the archival record, was expressed through the ownership of objects directly associated with enslaved labour: sugar tongs and tobacco boxes were explicit material reminders of enslaved Africans’ exploitation, increasingly at the hands of English plantation owners.

Elisabeth Grass (Oxford): Materiality and self-fashioning in the British Atlantic world: A case study of John Tharp of Jamaica

This paper considers the movement of domestic material goods within the eighteenth-century British Atlantic world, and their significance to the identity formation of John Tharp (1744-1804), an Anglo-Jamaican slave trader, merchant, and planter.

After living most of his life in Jamaica, in 1792 Tharp bought Chippenham Park estate in Cambridgeshire. This kind of purchase was a commonplace move for planters; they relocated to the ‘mother country’ and established themselves as landed gentlemen. This paper shows that as Tharp parlayed money from exploitation and imperial profiteering into land and status in the metropole, material goods were central to his self-fashioning agenda. In stark contrast to the thrifty mercantile persona he projected, Tharp used possessions to proclaim his civility, and was preoccupied to the point of anxiety with the acquisition of a wide array of fashionable goods.

After an ostentatious landing in Britain, Tharp lived at Chippenham for less than a decade before returning to Jamaica. This occasioned a familial stock take, in which his possessions were consciously divided between Britain and the Caribbean. This paper also considers this moment of dispersal, as a counterpoint to the traditional narrative of movement of goods from colony to metropole. Tharp’s correspondence reveals that the property he had acquired to fashion himself a gentleman remained central to his identity. Indeed, he remained preoccupied with the material minutiae of his British estate, even from a remove of more than seven thousand miles.

This paper demonstrates that possessions became a focus for Tharp’s anxieties about the success of his dynasty, and that he became increasingly preoccupied with these as his health and his businesses floundered, and as abolition became increasingly inevitable. As a socalled ‘citizen of the world’, Tharp offers an opportunity to consider the intersection of empire, identity and materiality on the eve of abolition.

Esha Sil (University of Helsinki): Towards a Polyvocal Transoceanic Materiality: Antony Firingi, Henry Derozio, and Creole Bengal

My paper will engage with the material history of imperial Europe, via the embodied vocal articulations of a “creole Bengali” modernity in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. It will posit as its contextual premise the material and affective networks forged by the transoceanic encounters of island-like enclaves along the Hooghly river in Bengal: these enclaves, including Bandel, Chandernagore, Chinsurah and Serampore, developed rapidly into Portuguese, French, Dutch and Danish settlements between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, entering into complex inter-imperial dialogues with the British colonial capital, Calcutta, and furthering at the same time, Bengal’s commercial and transcultural exchanges across the Indian and Atlantic oceans.

My analysis of the material and artistic synergies, constituting such entangled histories and their creolized life-worlds, will be predicated upon the vocal axes of two identitynarratives – those of Antony Firingi (c.1786-1836), a Portuguese-Bengali kabiyal songster from Pharashdanga, i.e. Chandernagore, and Henry Derozio (1809-1831), a Calcutta-based Anglo-Indian poet and academic, of mixed Portuguese ancestry. I will thereby demonstrate how the alternative vocal agency of the “creole” body radically reconfigures the materialpolitical paradigms of a colonial Bengali space-time, to challenge the discursive prevalence of the “British” versus “Indian” binary – a binary which, as Claude Markovits (2017) and Ananya Kabir (2019) contend, has for a long time characterized the colonial historiography of Bengal and India, marginalizing, in Kabir’s terms, India’s other European cross-cultural encounters, as well as the interstitial histories of “those who…occup[ied] [a]…space between ‘Indian’ and ‘British’.”

Although most “mixed-race people,” in late-eighteenth century India, known as “East Indians,” were, as Markovits observes, “of Portuguese ancestry on the paternal side,” and largely “Catholics and Portuguese subjects,” they were being augmented through an influx of British soldiers, into Bengal and India, resulting “in the rapid growth of a group of youth who were British by their fathers and Indian or Portuguese by their mothers.” This, concludes Markovits, led to the execution of administrative policies, under Lord Cornwallis’s governorgeneralship (1786-1793), which effectively nipped in the bud, the “revolutionary” possibilities of such creole communities in British India.

It is the peripheral materiality of these “in-between” creole story-spaces that I propose to investigate through a close-reading of Firingi’s songs and Derozio’s poems. My paper will accordingly mobilize the embodied vocality of Firingi and Derozio’s creole Bengali identities to examine the “otherized” Eurasian body, by venturing, as Kabir observes, beyond “the territorial and centralising perspective,” which has hitherto determined Indian history’s “peninsular heartland complex”: I will thus explore the alternative material imaginaries layering the polyphonic margins of Creole India’s transoceanic temporalities.

Deploying a conceptual apparatus interspersing cultural materialist and oceanic humanities approaches with sound-studies methodologies, my comparative critique of Firingi’s songs and Derozio’s poems will delineate the “contact-sensuous” mystique of the creole Bengali body as a “speaking commodity,” to tease out the archipelagic resonances of its sonic propulsions. I will hence establish how the embodied acoustic agency of Firingi and 2 Derozio’s interstitial modernities, harnesses the dense intercultural synergies of the Hooghly enclaves, to inaugurate a polyvocal transoceanic poetics of “rematerializing” Creole Bengal. 


Session 2: Global Networks

Rosalind Carr (Birkbeck, University of London): The Materiality of Massacre: Governor Macquarie, Improvement and Colonial Violence

What does it mean when a colonial governor orders a massacre of Indigenous people and builds a new town? Historiography tends to treat these two things separately, placing colonial violence as separate from or indeed indicative of a failure of eighteenth-century civility. However, just as we know how the profits to build the townhouses of Georgian Britain were earned (i.e. slavery) we can see a connection between improvement, colonial control, and what Patrick Wolfe termed the attempted elimination of ‘the native’.

Presenting this argument, this paper offers a case study of Warrane/Sydney in the 1810s, when it was led by the British governor, Lachlan Macquarie. Macquarie achieved first governor, Arthur Phillip’s dream of establishing a polite Georgian townscape on the land of the Gadigal people. The Gadigal people of the Eora nations never ceded their sovereignty. The British (in my case, we) claimed (still claim) it on the basis of European myths of civility and civilisation.

Macquarie’s reforms were architectural and social. Along with his wife Elizabeth, he turned Sydney into a polite town. He is also known as a humane governor in regard to the treatment of convicts, whilst he also sought to bring them under greater control. A typical nineteenth-century assimilationist, influenced by Scottish Enlightenment thought, he sought to force White culture upon the local people by establishing Aboriginal schools and (temporarily) granting land. Whilst doing so, he was regularly writing to his brother about the improvement of the family estate on the Isle of Mull. He was also busy ending the first frontier war begun by Pemulwuy in 1790. This included orders to kill Indigenous people who resisted and resulted in the Appin massacre of 1816. These events, embodied in one man, demonstrate that polite improvement and colonial violence were intertwined and interdependent.

Apurba Chatterjee (German Maritime Museum): Cultures of Natural History Illustrations in Early British India

This paper originates from my recently completed PhD thesis where I have investigated the relationship between visual arts and British imperialism in India during the mid-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. I have focused on the role of images produced by both British and Indian artists, and their attendant politics in the creation and consolidation of the British Indian rule. In doing so, I have examined how the legitimacy of imperial authority was constructed through imagery in accordance with the political discourse of the times. Applying conceptual history to understand the semiotics of power in the formation of imperial self-image, I have suggested that political changes in India under the Britons was accompanied by conceptual changes. An important aspect of such changes was that of the British command over India’s natural environment. From the latter half of the eighteenth century onwards, classification of the natural world as foregrounded by Carl Linnaeus became indispensable in the scientific explorations and colonisation of new lands and peoples. In the age of the Enlightenment, zest and curiosity to understand India’s nature came to be accompanied by a tendency to tame the wilderness of Indian exotica thus rendering it useful for British economic interests. The artistic representations of Indian flora and fauna, in this context, are parts of the complex entanglements of scientific knowledge and the political imperatives of British presence in India. Dealing with the images of Indian flora and fauna as historical evidence, in this paper, I will explore how nature itself was embroiled within the wider reconfigurations of power in the narratives of imperialism. In this regard, I highlight the material dimensions of the visual recording of India’s nature, thereby shedding light on an array of processes whereby specimens were located, sampled, and then prepared for drawing and painting- which themselves were a product of the hierarchies of imperial power relations. I argue that the visualisations and iconographies of plants and animals in natural history illustrations were a parallel to their material extraction and consumption. The results thus show the imagery of nature as a leitmotif of British political power reflecting on its extent and limitations, and give crucial insights to British Indian empire as a cultural regime. Such a study of visual representations would provide a window not only to understand the complexities of Britain’s imperial encounters, but would also redirect enquiries into the cultures of collection and display that would facilitate a nuanced understanding of larger ideas like identity, gender, nationhood, imperialism, aesthetics, and power in the British world. As the majority of natural history artists were Indian, this paper simultaneously would be an addition to the increasing acknowledgement of non-European agency and contribution in the European sciences. Finally, this paper will provide grounds for the rethinking of human relationship with the natural world under British imperialism within historical scholarship.

Session 3: Food and the Empire

Annika Raapke (University of Oldenburg): Too hot and heavy? Embonpoint and movement in the 18th century French Caribbean

It was a truth (almost) universally acknowledged in Ancien Régime France that the climate, landscape and societal make-up of France’s Caribbean colony were all supremely unhealthy for European bodies. For the men and women who moved or travelled there, it was therefore of utmost importance to preserve their health and well-being, which meant careful monitoring but also a certain flexibility, because the body might find itself confronted with new challenges that required new behaviour. Letters written by colonials from various social backgrounds show that one aspect which preoccupied colonial minds was the bulk of the body. On the one hand, it was important to preserve one’s body in all its mass – a bit of embonpoint was a clear sign of wellbeing, losing it meant danger and signalled an incompatibility with the colonial surroundings. Relations and friends in France were thus glad to receive worn clothes from colonials who “had grown too fat for them”, since this clearly showed that their loved ones across the ocean were doing so well that they were actually increasing. On the other hand, it was important not to become “heavy” in the heat. Carrying around cumbersome stomachs and heavy limbs in the heat did not feel good; eating was a process fraught with complications, as was physical exercise. Movement in general was problematic and potentially unhealthy, it was a much-discussed marvel that French creole women – who reportedly only drank hot chocolate and ate almost nothing except salted meat and sweets – were able to “dance and f*** in this heat”, as one rather uncouth letter-writer put it. In contrast, many other letter-writers complained that they felt as if they were “all filled with stones” and took measures to “unburden” themselves before they faced periods of intense movement. This paper examines how 18th century French colonials negotiated the physical matter, size, and shape of their bodies, as well as feelings of lightness and heaviness in the Caribbean surroundings. It looks at the space a coloniser’s body could, and should, take up in the colonial arrangements, according to their own notions; at the “weight” it was supposed to carry, and at the ways in which it was supposed (and not supposed) to move – which were intensely linked to questions of wealth, sexuality and power; and performances of gender and race.

Ulla Ijäs (University of Turku): Sugar and other Colonial Goods in Nineteenth-Century Northern Baltic

In 1819, a merchant’s widow named Marie Hackman sent her first ship to the Southern America. Her wish was to import sugar and coffee from the colonies to her hometown Vyborg, which at the time belonged to the Grand Duchy of Finland in imperial Russia. Unfortunately, the captain and the most of the crew died of yellow fever in Rio de Janeiro. Later, her son continued the business of which one branch was the import of colonial goods.

In the mid-1800’s, the house of Hackman imported 20 000–80 000 kilograms of refined sugar from the colonies, via an Amsterdam merchant house Gebrüder Hooglandt, being one of the biggest sugar importer in the Grand Duchy of Finland. From the 1860s, Hackmans partially owned the so-called Kiseleff’s sugar refining factory in Helsinki, where the raw sugar was produced into different sugar products. The factory was financed by a London banker Huth & Co, and the majority of sugar was imported from Havanna.

In this paper, my aim is to study the early years of sugar import and refining processes in Finland. I will illustrate from where the sugar was imported and how these commercial networks linked the house of Hackman to European merchant networks that operated at the colonies. The period of my study, ca. 1820s to the 1880, is an important phase in the story of the industrialization in Finland. In Finland, because we did not have own colonies, the colonial history is highly understudied chapter in history. Finnish merchants, however, were deeply connected with the European and colonial networks.

As scholars studying the eighteenth-century have demonstrated, in the northern Europe urban areas, sugar became an important consumer good hand in hand with other colonial goods such as tea and coffee. (Hodacs 2016; Hutchinson 2011) Cultural historians have pointed out how consumption of these goods were an internal part of the daily life in the polite society.(Vickery 2008).

My primary sources are letters and account books from the archives of Hackman & Co, reaching from the 1790s to the late 19th century. Beside this, I will use the digital collection of newspapers from the Finnish National Library digital collections.