Monday, 12 April 2010
Dr Jennifer Howes of the British Library has just published Illustrating India: The Early Colonial Investigations of Colin Mackenzie (1784–1821).
It reveals for the first time a mine of unique and fascinating information on pre-colonial and early colonial India. The Mackenzie collection, assembled by Colin Mackenzie, the first Surveyor General of India, between 1784 and 1821, contains the oldest and largest known repository of pictorial documents on the history and culture of India to be gathered by a single European collector.
This book showcases monuments and shrines, sculpture, landscapes, caste groups and social structures as described in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century India. Jennifer Howes’ gripping narrative contextualizes the Mackenzie drawings and provides a broad view of the Indian subcontinent. She presents a graphic account of people and everyday life in Hyderabad and Mysore, along with interpretations of temples and their uses. She also highlights Mackenzie’s investigations at Mahabalipuram, providing unique answers to some puzzling archaeological questions. Most importantly, she shows how Mackenzie’s methods profoundly relied upon information gathered by his Indian assistants.
Besides drawings, Mackenzie collected manuscripts, unpublished letters and maps, and he published articles about his research. Howes includes biographical notes on military draftsmen and copyists who worked for Mackenzie and identifies many unknown artists. Delineating the illustrious career of a determined individual, the author also asks whether Mackenzie could be regarded as an Orientalist.