History of Art 236: Theorizing the Global Early Modern, South Asia 1550–1850

Instructor: Professor Sugata Ray

This course fulfills an elective requirement for the DE in REMS.

The recent past has seen a renewed scholarly focus on the mobility and global circulation of people, objects, and ideas across the early modern world. Historians have now come to understand the early modern as fundamentally transcultural, a form of “globalization” before modernity. But what role did early modern trade networks and diplomacy, commodities and consumption, warfare and intrigue play in the production of objects? How did technology transfer reshape aesthetic taste? Conversely, in what ways did material objects participate in the development of the global early modern as a political, social, and intellectual condition? With these questions in mind, we will closely focus on one object each week to generate a theory of things circulating across the early modern world. Our interrogations will focus on the Mughal empire (1526–1858), the largest centralized Islamic state in this period, at the crossroads of European colonialism, inter-Asian trade networks, and exchanges across the Islamic world. Consequently, our visual archive will range from South Asian material in European kunstkammers to Chinese porcelain collections, the hybridization of animals and plants from Latin America, Islamic cartography, maritime engineering, automatons, and Jesuit print culture in the Mughal court. Our readings and discussions will also radiate outwards from Mughal South Asia to Europe, China, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Indian Ocean littoral. At the same time, we will visit the Asian Art Museum to study paintings in order to engage with the materiality of early modern things. Bringing together postcolonial theory and global art history, our aim will be to intercept and transcript the plurotopic transculturality internal to the early modern world. No previous background in art history, postcolonial theory, early modern studies, or South Asia is required.

Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes