Museum Collecting and Constructions of Identity in Indian Punjab,1947-1970

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Venkateswaran, Mrinalini 

This thesis takes an original approach to twentieth century south Asian history by linking long established research on partition and postcolonial nation building, with a new domain of enquiry and material: museum historiography and practice. If unpacking colonial museums and collecting practices revealed the workings of colonialism and the colonial state, what can studying postcolonial museums and collecting practices tell us about the nation-state? What sort of national discourse did they generate in these early years, especially when located away from the centre in a region like Indian Punjab?

Collecting for a Punjab museum continued throughout the region’s unique experience of changing boundaries and polities from 1947-1966, beginning with partition, and ending with the linguistic reorganisation of states, with a phase of princely federation in between. These events and their implications impacted the ways in which the collections were acquired, and subsequently interpreted. Competing, conflicting narratives and motivations emerge, including nostalgia for a pre-partition past, and princely legacies offering alternative national imaginaries, set against an Indian art historical project that projected art from the Kangra Valley as the pinnacle of not only Punjab’s but India’s artistic heritage. How did the Punjab Museum — which later became the Chandigarh Museum — present Punjab to itself, to India, and the world?

I approach these questions by using personal correspondence and archival material to reveal the previously unconsidered transnational networks that animate this history, which challenge our assumptions about the people and processes that shape a nation.

Chatterji, Joya
museum, partition, India, South Asia, Punjab, Pahari
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Major funding provided by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and Cambridge Trust (RGCS). Additional funding and sponsorship provided by: Faculty of History, Smuts Memorial Fund, J. N. Tata Endowment, Nehru Trust, Royal Historical Society, Charles Wallace India Trust, Girton College, Gilchrist Educational Trust, Commonwealth Association of Museums, European Association of South Asian Studies, Bryn Mawr College, Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland.