Pride and Curiosity: Encounters with Textile Products in the Second Punjab Exhibition 1881-1882

Hussain Ahmad Khan

Government College Univ, Lahore

In nineteenth-century colonial exhibitions, cross cultural encounters between humans and things shaped ideas and transformed emotions. Creation, production and consumption of crafts invoked an emotion of pride among Indian craft communities, patrons and consumers. By contrast, British curators’ collecting, exhibiting and interpreting crafts, also tried to invoke the emotion of pride for the Empire. But this cross-cultural encounter in the exhibitionary space invoked curiosity and surprise instead. The main reason behind curiosity of British jurors and audience was decontextualization of objects: exhibits produced and consumed in one context were displayed in an altogether different one. The British considered uncivilized the regions producing such objects, thus the British could not explain them with their existing knowledge or ‘scientific’ framework.  Indian craftsmen attached different emotional values to craft objects.  Suspicious of the very exhibition project, they believed the British would impose more taxes on the exhibits, and would share trade secrets with European manufacturers.  Shaped by differing aims and expectations on each side, this dynamic exposed both to emotions of both pride and curiosity and, in the process, altered the outcomes of colonial exhibition strategies.


Hussain Ahmad Khan has a PhD in History from the National University of Singapore. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Cambridge University. He is working as an Associate Professor at the Department of History, Government College, Lahore. His recent book is Artisans, Sufis, Shrines.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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