Accepted paper:

Visual Representation and Reportage of 19th Century South Asian Earthquakes from Colonial Archives

Author:

Debojyoti Das (Bristol University)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on research from the AHRC-funded project I conclude that photographs were crucial to substantiate colonial state and Indian nationalist (Indian National Congress) political appeal for relief and reconstruction in the colony in the aftermath of a disaster.

Paper long abstract:

Earthquakes are catastrophic, sudden and ground-breaking. In nineteenth century India, British colonial officials and geologists created a legacy of private and official archives of major earthquake disasters, including newspaper clippings, geometrical measurements and photographs. Yet, although disaster studies are a burgeoning scholarly field, anthropologists working on natural disasters in South Asia have barely looked into the visual representation of disaster events and their aftermath (relief and reconstruction) kept in such archives. In this paper I will examine the metaphors, symbolisms and representations that photographs carried in the aftermath of a disaster by examining colonial photo collections kept in British and Indian archives, while considering the ways that photographs were produced, organised and catalogued. I will compare photographs from three major earthquakes: in Assam, India, 1897; Nepal and Bihar, India, 1934; and Quetta, Balochistan (now Pakistan), 1935. I contend that ethnographic examination of earthquakes through the study of photographs as an archival source makes one aware of the nuances in representation that are often missed by written texts. Visual archives can produce a long term register of the disaster event that can be of novel value for anthropological investigation of earthquakes and their long term impact on society and public policy on disaster risk reduction. Drawing on research from the AHRC-funded project 'Broken Ground: Earthquakes, colonialism and nationalism in South Asia, c.1900-1960', I conclude that photographs were crucial to substantiate colonial state and Indian nationalist (Indian National Congress) political appeal for relief and reconstruction in the colony.

panel P056
Photography and Political Belonging