Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

The import(ance) of history and modernity: Home, parish, and imperial order in the photographic representation of Simla 1860-1920

Whitehall, Graeme


Graeme Whitehall


The research sits in a gap between historical geography, colonial history, local micro-history and art history but also draws on wider fields such as museology, anthropology and cultural theory. It offers new perspectives onto the historiography of the photographic representation of British India whilst probing the benefits and limitations of using photography as a historical source. In particular it highlights how technological restrictions impacted on what was represented.
Specifically it provides the first examination of the photographic representation of Simla, the summer capital of the British Raj, as a site. Moreover, it offers the first real interrogation of another overlooked subject; namely, the photographic representation of the physical, social and psychological structures that the colonial society created in order for it to function effectively. What has been termed the ‘Furniture of the British Raj’. It reveals the importance of the notion of home for the colonial society at Simla, the significance of establishing a British history and aura for the town and the nature of photography’s role in propagating such conceptions. In doing so it promotes an understanding of the reasons behind the application of a picturesque aesthetic to the representation of Simla. It provides new conceptions of period realities by probing the representation of inter-communal interpersonal relationships, the depiction of technology and the social order created within the Simla municipality.
The in-context methodology employed has been central to the enquiry: instead of viewing the colonial presence as a homogenous whole it showcases individual differentiated viewpoints. Viewpoints made manifest by the focus on four photographic archives that are examined not as isolated quoted images but as curated culminate bodies of work within the context of their production. Uniquely, the thesis allows the images, including small details within the frame, to prompt disparate avenues of historical research unearthing subjects that might otherwise not be interrogated. The juxtaposition of these different strands creates a unique understanding of place and society. It is an approach that has culminated in new perspectives on, and understanding of, site-specific issues and mentalities: including those concerning colonisation, the environment, forestry, psychological well-being, recreation, sport, social institutions, commerce, the railway, infrastructural development, municipal governance, spatial design, labour and introduction of modernity.


Whitehall, G. The import(ance) of history and modernity: Home, parish, and imperial order in the photographic representation of Simla 1860-1920. (Thesis). University of the West of England. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Keywords Simla, photographic representation India, colonial third culture, Federico Peliti, Elinor Tollington, Arthur Astbury, Edward Buck, Samuel Bourne, Bourne and Shepperd, Indian forestry, Indian railways, Kalka Simla Railway, Durand Cup, Simla Fine Arts, Hind
Public URL
Award Date Aug 1, 2014

Downloadable Citations