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Colonizing Light? The Contentious Development of Artificial Light in British India

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Abstract:

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the introduction of petroleum, gas, and electric lights profoundly altered night-time habits and perceptions. The commercialization, domestication, and disciplining of nocturnal activities has been termed the “colonization of the night” (Melbin 1987; Koslofsky 2011). For most parts of the world, this expression had a double meaning as lighting technologies were also part of the colonization process. Yet there is very little known about the history of lighting in non-Western regions. Concentrating on India as Britain’s most important colony and ‘forerunner’ of colonial politics, the paper explores the socio-cultural impact of technologies and tensions between ‘tools of empire’ (Headrick) and everyday experiences on the ground, describing how the production and consumption of artificial light influenced night-time habits and political practices in British India.
India’s lighting history is an example of the ‘contemporaneousness of the uncontemporary’ (Bloch). While Calcutta, as the administrative centre of the East India Company and capital of India until 1911, was equipped with public gas lights as early as 1857 and electric lights in the late 1890s, public lighting remained an ancillary infrastructure in most parts of the subcontinent until well into the 20th century – a highly contentious, coveted and politicized urban luxury. The development and spread of new forms of artificial light in India was not only determined by British ethnic policies and financial restrains, but also access and availability of suitable materials and energy resources. The paper traces the resources, stakeholders, infrastructures, and institutions necessary for the diffusion of artificial light – with a focus on changes of India’s energy landscapes – and the ramifications of new lighting technologies for colonial life and rule, discussing both conceptual considerations and first empirical results for an entangled history of lighting in the British Empire.
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Name: ASEH Annual Conference
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http://aseh.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1169944_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Hasenöhrl, Ute. "Colonizing Light? The Contentious Development of Artificial Light in British India" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASEH Annual Conference, Drake Hotel, Chicago, IL, <Not Available>. 2018-01-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1169944_index.html>

APA Citation:

Hasenöhrl, U. "Colonizing Light? The Contentious Development of Artificial Light in British India" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASEH Annual Conference, Drake Hotel, Chicago, IL <Not Available>. 2018-01-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1169944_index.html

Publication Type: Panel Paper
Abstract: In the 19th and 20th centuries, the introduction of petroleum, gas, and electric lights profoundly altered night-time habits and perceptions. The commercialization, domestication, and disciplining of nocturnal activities has been termed the “colonization of the night” (Melbin 1987; Koslofsky 2011). For most parts of the world, this expression had a double meaning as lighting technologies were also part of the colonization process. Yet there is very little known about the history of lighting in non-Western regions. Concentrating on India as Britain’s most important colony and ‘forerunner’ of colonial politics, the paper explores the socio-cultural impact of technologies and tensions between ‘tools of empire’ (Headrick) and everyday experiences on the ground, describing how the production and consumption of artificial light influenced night-time habits and political practices in British India.
India’s lighting history is an example of the ‘contemporaneousness of the uncontemporary’ (Bloch). While Calcutta, as the administrative centre of the East India Company and capital of India until 1911, was equipped with public gas lights as early as 1857 and electric lights in the late 1890s, public lighting remained an ancillary infrastructure in most parts of the subcontinent until well into the 20th century – a highly contentious, coveted and politicized urban luxury. The development and spread of new forms of artificial light in India was not only determined by British ethnic policies and financial restrains, but also access and availability of suitable materials and energy resources. The paper traces the resources, stakeholders, infrastructures, and institutions necessary for the diffusion of artificial light – with a focus on changes of India’s energy landscapes – and the ramifications of new lighting technologies for colonial life and rule, discussing both conceptual considerations and first empirical results for an entangled history of lighting in the British Empire.


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