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HA2005 Art and Politics in South Asia: the Mughal and British Empires

Module Organiser: Dr Mridu Rai
Duration of the Module: Michaelmas Term
Contact Hours: 1 lecture pw, and 1 seminar per fortnight
Weighting: 5 ECTS

This class will present a broad historical analysis of the relationship between art and authority in South Asia. We will explore the uses of art and culture in two separate but interconnected imperial states in India, viz., the early modern Mughal empire (1526-1757) and its successor the modern British empire (1757-1947). In general, we will take an expansive view of art and culture in the public arena(s), inquiring into the many related areas where the arts and imperial policy interacted to express political legitimacy and define authority as well as to challenge it. At the same time we will examine the various religious influences on Indian art during this period including Hinduism, Islam, Hindu devotional and Muslim Sufi traditions. We will also turn our attention to the impact on art of secular and secularizing influences ushered in during the colonial and nationalist eras. Other important themes we will explore concern those of the social content of art and the concepts of audience and patronage in art.


Assessment is by coursework only. Students undertake one essay and one slide test. The essay is worth two thirds of the assessment, and the slide test accounts for one-third of the assessment.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module, students should be able to:

  • Identify and explain a range of themes exploring the relationship between art, architecture and political authority in India under the Mughal and British empires (sixteenth to mid-twentieth centuries)
  • outline the chronology and main evolutionary trends in art and architecture in India during this period
  • Identiy and descibe the transition in the uses of art and architecture in India from the Mughal to the British periods
  • describeand explain the uses of art and architecture in India under the two empires both to assert and challenge political legitimacy
  • compare and evaluate the different approaches to understanding visual art and architectural traditions under these two empires
  • undertake informed and critical analysis of works of art and architecture in India, and communicate their conclusions clearly through independent research