The series of annual international exhibitions held during the early 1870s at South Kensington, London, were not particularly successful, or popular, but they were influential in the history of exhibitions. The alleged failures and the cancellation of the final annual exhibition halfway through the intended decade-long series of events provoked considerable discussion about the purpose, scale and expectations for exhibitions, which were no longer novel or limited to a particular city or nation-state. There were some successes, notably for the Australian colonies and British India, and for very specific trades and exhibitors, but the public discussion and those limited successes have generally failed to capture the attention of scholars. These events are rarely mentioned in books and articles about exhibitions and, when discussed, are considered to be failures without merit. This BRANCH contribution recognizes that other exhibitions were more popular and more successful, but also recognizes that the South Kensington shows were significant in addressing criticisms of exhibitions in general and in the generational history of both the shows and their organizers. The 1870s proved to be a pivotal period in the history of such exhibitions and the consideration of what merited public culture. The mantle was passed from Sir Henry Cole to his successors and the ambition of holding annual international exhibitions was replaced by more thematic shows in Britain and bold international shows in the Australian colonies. Amidst the general impressions of failure, there were also successes at the shows and those highlighted how inter-national exhibitions could prove useful in a changing world.
Kathleen Frederickson, “British Writers on Population, Infrastructure, and the Great Indian Famine of 1876-8”
This article examines British writing about the 1876-8 famine in southern and western India. In British newspapers and journals, the turn to thinking about famine in terms of the total population obscured the extreme variations in food access that worsened with rising economic inequality. When the British press in the late-1870s turned to human causes of famine, they either argued that India’s population overburdened India’s land, or suggested that more rail construction would prevent enough deaths sufficiently to mitigate British responsibility for famine conditions. The turn to population-based arguments helped either to perpetuate the belief that famine was a quasi-natural part of India or to parse the sudden increase in the frequency and severity famines in India under British rule.
The fifty-year Jubilee of Indian tea was celebrated in the Spring and Summer of 1887, coinciding precisely with Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. This Jubilee had nothing to do with Victoria per se, but rather the commercial anniversary invented Indian/Ceylon tea as an icon of imperial Britishness. Industry leaders used 1887 to highlight specifically two key events in tea’s commercial and imperial history, the first moment tea arrived in Britain from Assam (1837) and the first time (April 1887) that tea from both India and Ceylon surpassed imports from China. They explained the later development by arguing that Britons had learned to appreciate modern industrial production and plantation agriculture more than old-fashioned and dirty Chinese modes of production. The Jubilee thus marked publicly how and when tea became a mass-produced and consumed imperial product.
In the 150 years since it occurred, little about the events that shook northern India in the waning days of the East-India Company’s rule has been fixed. The skeletal facts are seldom contested, but their meanings so disputed that what is known appears to recede. Take, for instance, the nomenclature: long known as the “Indian Mutiny,” the events under scrutiny were neither “Indian” (in any pan-Indian or collective sense) nor only a “mutiny.” Alternatives abound—Sepoy Mutiny; Sepoy War; Revolt of 1857; the Uprising of 1857; the Rebellion of 1857; the Great Rebellion; the First War of Independence—each offering an interpretive gloss on the May 1857-June 1858 events. This essay offers an overview of key nodes of debate—who participated and why? who led whom? how planned were the events? how unified were actors—in the current historiography of 1857.
The British Empire Exhibition, held in 1924 and 1925, assembled the member nations of the empire to develop imperial trade connections and to cultivate closer political ties between Britain and her territories. A commercial, educational and imperial spectacle, the exhibition reminded Britons of the material and political value of the empire, as the nation struggled to recover from the economic impact of the Great War. For some colonial participants, however, the British Empire Exhibition enabled them to present a distinct national identity in pursuit of greater autonomy from Britain, while for others, it provided a forum in which to critique racial discrimination within the empire.
Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, “The Moxon Tennyson as Textual Event: 1857, Wood Engraving, and Visual Culture”
By convention the launch of the so-called “golden age” of wood-engraved illustration in Britain, also known as “the sixties,” is Edward Moxon’s publication, in May 1857, of Alfred Tennyson’s Poems, with 54 wood-engraved illustrations designed by 8 artists, including the Pre-Raphaelites John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Although the Moxon Tennyson was neither a commercial nor critical success on first publication, before the decade was out its Pre-Raphaelite designs were considered a touchstone for artistic illustration, a reputation that continues today. Without disputing the significance of this aesthetic achievement, I want to shift critical focus to the Moxon Tennyson’s status as mass-produced work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. My interest here is in how its visual communication was expressed through its reproductive technology at the historical moment of its production and reception. This essay re-positions the Moxon Tennyson as a textual event by reading it in the context of documentary, satiric, and artistic wood-engraved images selected from the crucial six-month period after its publication. By situating the Pre-Raphaelite illustrations for Tennyson’s Poems in relation to representations in the public press of such disparate events as the Art Treasures of the United Kingdom Exhibition in Manchester, the reportage on Indian uprisings at Meerut and Cawnpore, the Matrimonial Causes Act, and the Christy Minstrels show in London, I aim to show the complex ways in which the Moxon Tennyson was a worldly event, caught up in, and contributing to, ways of seeing and knowing in 1857.
This essay examines the adulteration of tea in the contexts of free trade and the politics of empire. It contends that the importance of tea as a healthful, particularly British drink made the adulteration of the beverage a significant matter for social and moral concern. Adulterated tea was primarily from China and so was typed as “foreign” and unclean in contrast to tea imported from Assam, India, that was defined as “British” and healthy.
This essay explores the three Delhi Coronation Durbars and their relationship to topics of spectacle, imperial policy, visual culture, modern media, and Indian and British responses to these events.
This essay explores the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition, focusing specifically on its unprecedented display of 34 Indian artisans. It contextualizes this display in relation to Victorian discourses that lamented the disappearance of the British working body through mechanization, and that conflated the authenticity of South Asian crafts with the presence of “genuine” Indian bodies.