How would histories look from the perspective of images? Do visual images help us to uncover alternate histories that remain otherwise untraceable in textual sources and archives? What are the potentials of visual images in the domain of historical research? What are the boundaries between images and texts, art and “non-art”? How are our ways of seeing shaped by social conditioning? Are there “ways of seeing” that are specific to South Asia?
In seeking to answer some of these questions, this course sets out to explore the field of visual culture across South Asia, as it has developed at the intersections of disciplinary domains of history, art history, cultural and visual anthropology, film and media studies and heritage studies. It will examine the shifting nature and function of visual imagery in the modern and contemporary era, the changing technologies of production and reproduction, and the different circuits of reception, dissemination and circulation of images. Interdisciplinary in its appeal and content, the course will introduce students to a wide range of sites and media of cultural productions ranging from painting, photography and popular prints to maps, archaeological relics, religious icons, public architecture and monumental statuary; from sites of display and spectatorship in museums and exhibitions to temples and urban spaces; from worlds of scholarship to those of devotion and tourism; from celluloid images of films and television to the interactive domain of the world wide web. Placing these visual forms and practices within the particular historical and political contexts of colonialism, decolonization, state building and globalization, the course will address broader theoretical concerns about the centrality of nationalism, class, ethnicity, diaspora, religion, gender and sexualities in the constitution of modern and contemporary South Asian public spheres. Case studies from South Asia will be complemented by exploring image representations from other parts of Africa and Europe. Finally, through archives of images we will explore the different and often competing representations of South Asia both in the specific geographic region demarcated thus and in other parts of the globe among “Asians” and “non-Asian” communities in the diaspora.