Accepted paper:

Revisiting Serampore's colonial heritage in India and in Denmark


Bente Wolff (National Museum of Denmark)

Paper short abstract:

How are local notions of modernity and development linked to colonial history and the restoration of heritage buildings in Serampore in West Bengal, India? And can the complexities of this relationship be conveyed to a Danish museum and film audience?

Paper long abstract:

The Serampore Initiative is a 7-year engagement of the National Museum of Denmark with Serampore in West Bengal, India. The city, which is located in an area locally referred to as "Little Europe on the Ganges", was once a Danish trading colony. The project comprises a varity of elements: building restoration, historical archive studies, sociocultural surveys of local citizens' relationships with colonial heritage buildings and their present-day understandings of Serampore's history. These undertakings all depend on active collaboration with partners from West Bengal, whether local grass-root groups, academic colleagues, media contacts, architects and craftsmen, as well as state government officials and legislators who not only have to give their formal consent, but also allocate public funds, for the restoration projects to happen. Local understandings of colonial history and heritage as they appear in Bengal news media, popular history books, field interviews etc. often differ from opinions expressed in Danish public debates. Two museum exhibitions are presently in the making, and a documentary film (Denmark by the Ganges) has already been produced under the Initiative. The film discusses the complexities of colonial history in the past, and in today's popular memory (in Denmark and Serampore, respectively). It also takes up local notions of cosmopolitanism, modernity, development and humanistic values that are inscribed into the popular history of Serampore. But can it be conveyed to a Danish museum and film audience that colonial history and Danish heritage buildings may have very different meanings in India than what is expected in Denmark?

panel P105
Museums and Anthropology: Colonial and post-colonial collections seen through museums, art and history