Lecture 4: The Architecture of Empire

A “Global” History of South Asia (3000 BCE – 2000 CE) This lecture examines how the British Raj employed the language of architecture during its colonial rule of India to project an image of Britain as the leader of the “civilized” world and assert the authority of the empire. In many ways, the colonial administration viewed architecture as an integral part of its ideological approach of “civilizing mission.” However, a singular narrative of the architecture of empire didn’t exist. We can see a gradual evolution from neo-classical style in the early stage of the East India Company and the Raj in the late 18th century and early 19th century toward what became known as the Indo-Saracenic style that blended European classical language with Mughal and other Indian motifs. The purported inclusiveness toward native architectural elements could be seen as a political strategy of creating the image of an enlightened empire. This lecture surveys examples of different styles of architecture across major cities in colonial India. The British Raj’s move of the colonial capital from Calcutta (a port city) to Delhi, an interior city long associated with past imperial glories, was an attempt to refashion the image of the empire in the early 20th century.

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