Manuscripts and Special Collections

Threads of Empire: Rule and resistance in colonial India 1740-1840

This exhibition ran between the 13th April and 20th August 2017.

The exhibition was 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.

Based on The University of Nottingham’s extensive archives on colonial India, 'Threads of Empire' examined 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. It explored the rise of the British Empire in India, predominantly between 1740 and 1840.

British presence in India began in the seventeenth 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.  The exhibition included letters from East India Company servants, documenting their motivations for going to India and their experiences upon arrival. 


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


Exhibition themes

Overview of the exhibition by the academic curator Dr Onni Gust.

 The exhibition boards which were displayed in the Weston Gallery are available to download:

Unfortunately it is not possible to display representations of all the original archive material and items which featured in the exhibition cases, but the casebacks are available:


Visitor comments

Wonderful exhibition of interesting archives, stuff you don't hear about when studying 'History of the World' in school.

This is a nice & informative way for me (born in post-colonial Africa) to explain some of the history of the British Empire to my 6 year old daughter.

I really enjoyed this exhibition, I had no idea of Nottingham's direct connection with India with respect to the East India Company. I'm surprised at the wealth of material and literature in the archives here.

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Manuscripts and Special Collections

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