Manuscripts and Special Collections

Threads of Empire



Rule and Resistance in Colonial India

Dates: Thursday 13 April - Sunday 20 August

Admission free

This exhibition explores the rise of the British Empire in India, predominantly between 1740 and 1840.

Based on The University of Nottingham’s extensive archives on colonial India, 'Threads of Empire' examines the history of tense negotiation, resistance and rebellion that lay behind the emergence of India as the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of the British Empire.

British presence in India began in the 17th century with the East India Company’s establishment of coastal trading bases. Granted trading privileges by the Mughal Emperor and a royal charter by James I in 1609, the East India Company exported cottons, silks, calicoes and tea.

Yet behind the exchange of gifts and elaborate ceremonies between the East India Company and Indian princes lay dissent, distrust and rebellion.

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Threads of Empire - Email Signature Final

The exhibition includes the letters of East India Company servants, documenting their motivations for going to India and their experiences upon arrival.

Visitors can read the outraged letters of the Prince of Mysore, Jamh O Deen, held hostage by the East India Company, and the reports on the Vellore Mutiny of 1806. The advice and petition of Hindu pandits relating to the abolition of sati (the practice of widow immolation) illustrates the role of negotiation and dissent in response to foreign, colonial rule. Threads of Empire allows the visitor to witness the fragile terrain of British imperial power in India from the perspective of both the rulers and the ruled.

Displayed as part of the exhibition will be an artwork, 'Entangled Freedoms, I, II and III' by Infinite Threads, a local textile-art collective.

The exhibition has been jointly curated by Dr Onni Gust (Department of History), Ibtisam Ahmed (PhD Student, School of Politics and International Relations) and Manuscripts and Special Collections at The University of Nottingham. Ibtisam Ahmed’s time on the project was supported by the Institute of Asia and Pacific Studies.

A series of talks and events will be held to accompany the exhibition. Places are limited so please book your tickets with the Box Office online or by calling 0115 8467777. See the exhibition page at Lakeside Arts Centre for further details.

Location and Opening Times

Weston Gallery 
DH Lawrence Pavilion 
Lakeside Arts Centre
University Park 

Box Office : 0115 8467777  

Opening times:

Tuesday to Friday 11am-4pm
Saturday, Sunday and Good Friday noon-4pm

Closed Mondays and Easter Sunday 

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Lunchtime talks  

Djanogly Theatre

All talks are 1 - 2 pm

20 April

The ‘Thin White Line’: European soldiers in colonial India

The military sat at the core of imperial rule in India. Although the army was composed largely of Indian troops, European soldiers were thought to be crucial to maintaining colonial rule. Dr Erica Wald explores the professional and daily lives of the European rank-and-file in India in the 19th century.

18 May

Clothing the Other: Fashion and the British Empire in India

Indian clothes and textiles were key items of trade for the British East India Company. Clothes were more than just commodities; they symbolised the differences between ruler and ruled. Ibtisam Ahmed looks at the role of clothing in defining and enforcing British rule in India.

19 July [please note the revised date]

Singing the Lord’s song in a strange land

19th century debates over British rule in India British imperialism was a contentious subject, especially among those who actively participated in the imperial project. Drawing on the correspondence of British imperial elites and Indian rulers, Dr Onni Gust examines early debates about the rights and wrongs of British conquest and rule in India.

Special Events

7.30pm, Djanogly Theatre

13 June: Dance/Spoken Word

Echoes and I Imagine (Aakash Odedra Company)

£15 (£12 concs), £9 restricted view

Suitable for 14+

Echoes is an exhilarating, high-octane Kathak dance experience which explores relationships with our ancestors. Choreographed by the Kathak icon Aditi Mangaldas, who is renowned for her artistry and energy, this groundbreaking work adds a contemporary twist to the stunning Kathak dance form. In 'I Imagine', Aakash combines beautiful choreography with powerful spoken word in a collaboration with award-winning poet Sabrina Mahfouz. Together they explore an imagined future and the confines of skin.

17 July: World Cinema

The Chess Players (1977) PG. Director Satyajit Ray

£5 (£3 concs)

A seminal piece of Indian cinema, 'The Chess Players' looks at the dynamics at play at the time of the annexation of Awadh (or Oudh) during the 1857 Rebellion. It focuses on the actions of two chess-obsessed noblemen, Mir (Jaffrey) and Mirza (Kumar). The juxtaposition of their interest in a game of strategy with their ineffectiveness in real-world politics is a scathing commentary on elitism and classism in India as much as it is a critique of British colonial policy.


Manuscripts and Special Collections

Kings Meadow Campus
Lenton Lane
Nottingham, NG7 2NR

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 4565
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