University of Sussex
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The East India Company’s engagement with Indian dress in England, c.1720-1800

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posted on 2023-06-09, 21:16 authored by Beth Louise RichardsBeth Louise Richards
This thesis investigates Indian dress - textiles and jewellery - brought back from the East Indies by East India Company servants and their subsequent function and role in British metropolitan and regional society. Whilst focusing on the senior EIC figures of Robert and Margaret Clive and Warren and Marian Hastings, it identifies a community of Nabobs who purchased or leased estates in Sussex on their return from the East Indies; offsetting Berkshire, Essex and Hertfordshire as the accepted centres for returning servants. Through examination of primary source material, a deeper more complex understanding of family transmission of material – both textile and jewellery – is demonstrated. On a thematic and conceptual level, the research generates an innovative direction for the study of dress within art historical enquiry, by adopting an inter-disciplinary approach that employs social anthropology, ethnography and material culture studies. It addresses dress objects within a dualistic, distinctive framework, as both a material dress object and its representation in art. Identifying a gap in our established perception of Oriental visual material, it institutes a genre of works that depicted East Indian dress, as a distinct means of representation from other forms of highly prevalent Oriental dress such as turquerie. It demonstrates that dress encodes and mediates social and cultural differences, alongside concepts of identity, nationhood and gender. By recognising the EIC’s notoriety as a monopoly that made money through corrupt practises, it reveals how the Company infected eighteenthcentury constructions of gender and otherness; unsettling ideas of materiality and femininity.


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  • doctoral

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  • eng


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