Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Entries Tagged as 'readings'

Diplomatic Gifts: Issues of Colonial Appropriation in the White Tower Museum

September 9th, 2010 · 4 Comments

In addition to its collection of British royal armour, the White Tower Museum at the Tower of London had an incredible collection of armour and weaponry from countries including China, Japan, Germany, and Russia.  Of particular interest to me was a helmet and a dagger, both of Indian origin.  The dagger, also known as a Katar, is decorated with a scene which includes the Hindu deities Krishna (playing the flute) and Vishnu.  Both serve a cerimonial purpose and were not meant for use in battle.

What suprised me when reading the plaque next to these items was the was the lack of detail in describing how these items were obtained.  The plaque in question simply stated that the helmet and dagger were given as a diplomatic gift to the East India Company, who then donated it to be exhibited in British museums such as the White Tower.  Without explaining the influence of the East India Company in colonial India, little context is given to the aquisition of these “diplomatic gifts”.

First, the East India Company was known to use violence to achieve its trade monopoly on the Indian Subcontinent.  In many cases, the company hired local mercenaries, also known as Sepoys (although I dont remember if the term was used in the description of the Rebellion of 1857 in White Teeth).  This divide and conquer strategy, pitting the local population against each other, allowed the company to profit extensively through exploitative trade and working conditions as well as consolidate power throughout the subcontinent.

Also, many of the so called treaties that were formed between the East India Company and the local ruling classes were later violated by the company, so to term any gifts from the local nobility as “diplomatic” is to completely whitewash the lack of concern that the company held for these agreements.  These treaties were often formed under duress or fear of violence, so the local ruling class likely had very good reason to give the invaders valuable gifts that they would normally retain for posterity.

I asked a curator in the museum if he had more specific information on how these two treasures were obtained by the East India Company, but unfortunately he was unable to tell me anything about the object besides it being on loan from another museum in the UK. He also interestingly stated that the items were donated to a museum because the company had no use for them.

Do you think that describing these items as diplomatic gifts is appropriate?

Tags: 2010 Tyler · Museums · readings

Salaam, Whitechapel Market

August 28th, 2010 · 11 Comments

Whitechapel Market was in some ways exactly what we expected: predominantly Muslim and Hindu. There were Halal butchers, veils, saris and curry vendors on every corner.  Most shoppers had tan complexions and wore Islamic or Hindu clothing; however, there were also white, black, and East-Asian shoppers. There were some ways in which Salaam, Brick Lane and our other readings about immigration to the East End didn’t prepare us, though: we saw a handful of authentic-looking English pubs when we expecting corner-to-corner curry joints; when we had anticipated a rowdy, bustling circus, the market seemed so empty that at first we weren’t sure we were in the right place. We walked up and down Whitechapel Road looking for a more likely candidate, resembling the market of Hall’s Chalky and Mr. Ali. We eventually realized we were in the right place, but since this is the holy month of Ramadan, the market is a little more subdued than usual. We also noticed the stall-keepers were almost entirely male, and that many of the mannequins had pale skin and light hair. Among our favorite experiences: meeting a lifelong Londoner on a park bench and learning about the “decline” of the East End; being continually surprised by the various cultural characteristics and quirks of the East End population; and arguing about headscarves and religious tradition on a Bethnal Green picnic table. Hope you enjoy our pictures of the Whitechapel Market and the surrounding area – we really enjoyed our experience there, and we can’t wait to go back and see it after Ramadan.

Here are some links we thought you might like to check out:

This one claims to be the definitive website on Ronnie and Reggie Kray. You may remember these two gangsters from Salaam, and sure enough, when we asked our elderly informant about what he considers to be the “real” East End, the Krays were the first thing he mentioned. If you’re looking for a better idea of what the East End used to be like (and what some residents wish the East End still was like), take a look here.

See an informational website regarding Ramadan here.

The Royal London Hospital is located on the other side of Whitechapel road. There is a link here for more information about the hospital.
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/JMvSb8bVRQQ" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
The video on YouTube

Tags: 2010 Amy · 2010 ChristopherB · 2010 MaryKate · Markets · Pubs · readings


September 13th, 2009 · No Comments

It’s taken me a while to formulate my thought about religion and identity, but I think I can finally say something on the topic.

Sikhism and Hinduism are fairly new to the UK, as Sikhs began immigrating overseas in the 1950s, after the liberation of British India (1947) and the division of Muslim Pakistan from Hindu India (this division cause fighting in the Punjab region between Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs). According to the BBC, while Hindus also began immigrating in the 1950s, Hindu immigration particularly increased in the 1970s when Indians were forced to leave many newly independent African countries, such as Kenya and Uganda. In London, these groups settled into lower class areas, such as the East End where immigrants have traditionally lived since the Huguenots. As we learned from Salaam Brick Lane and Brick Lane, this area often suffers from racial tension and violence (though the neighborhood has been gentrified a bit since Tarquin Hall’s days on Brick Lane).

If our visits to the Southall Sikh Gurdwara and the Sri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden proved to me one thing, it is that Sikhs and Hindus are clearly still seeking to find their place in the larger London society. Each place of worship we visited had numerous pamphlets and other resources for learning about their religion. Within these pamphlets (and of course the exhibition on “Understanding Hinduism”), both religions cited famous white guys praising the peacefulness of the corresponding religion. I don’t mean that sentence to sound as cynical as it might seem, but it just appeared to me that the institutions were really trying very hard to find a way to convince outsiders not to fear what is different. However, instead of simply informing visitors of their beliefs and practices, it was found necessary to justify these beliefs and practices with a white man’s approval. The most blatant example of this can be found in the “Understanding Hinduism” exhibition at the Mandir. In the section, “Hinduism for the individual,” the exhibition reads: “Hinduism, through its heroes and history, relays the real values of life. As George Bernard Shaw confirmed…” This statement raised a few questions in my mind. Most importantly: What makes George Bernard Shaw the authority on the “real values of life?” Shaw was famous for many things, but I’m fairly certain an expertise on Hinduism is not one of them. I would much rather hear the Hindus’ or the Sikhs’ own views on their religions, as I did not feel such justifications helped me to learn.

I would also like to comment on an observation made by many classmates in blogs and conversation about the relative modesty of the gurdwara when compared to the highly decorated mandir. In any religion the size and intricacy of a building of worship is determined by the community in which it is built and the amount of funding available. I’m sure none of the churches in our neighborhoods compares to St. Paul’s or St. Peter’s. In the same vein, the gurdwara we visited doesn’t compare to the Harmandir Sahib. The mandir in Neasden is much grander than mandir near my house in Somerset, NJ. The places we saw were single examples of larger religions and we must be careful when making observations about the religions as a whole.

Whenever I’m given a difficult topic to write about I try to go back to the basics. What is identity? According to Merriam-Webster, identity is the “sameness of essential or generic character in different instances” or “the distinguishing character or personality of an individual.” So, how can this be applied to immigrants in England?

In the various immigrant neighborhoods we have visited, it is clear that the communities are attempting to maintain some sort of “sameness of essential or generic character.” They built religious institutions, opened shops and restaurants, and created a small community that is similar to their home. In other ways, the community’s identity is forced to change when it moves to a new country. The environment is different. Ways of dress could change. New languages are learned in order to get jobs and communicate with others. A new country presents many challenges for an immigrant group and at some point something has to give, and not everything can stay exactly the same.

On an individual level, it’s much more difficult to generalize how one’s “distinguishing character or personality” is challenged by immigration. As we learned from Brick Lane, many times a person’s values can be completely transformed. When Nazneen first comes to England, all she wants is to return to Bangladesh and she never speaks out against her husband. By the end of the novel, she refuses to return with him. We’ve also learned about some of the challenges faced by second-generation immigrants. Magid, Millat, and Irie are caught between two worlds: their parents’ expectations for them and their own society. The ease of adaptation is also affected by economic status. Doctors and grad students face different challenges than do poorer people forced to live in violent neighborhoods.

Tags: readings · Sarah

If You Give a Miner a Paintbrush…

September 10th, 2009 · No Comments

So I am quite sure I was not the only one that was moved by The Pitmen Painters tonight. I must admit, this was the performance I was least looking forward to, and it was the one I enjoyed and was touched by the most. I guess it was because, first of all, it struck close to home. My great grandfathers on my father’s side of the family both were coal miners and it just gave me so much pride in my family. My father was the first person on his side of the family to attend college, my sister and I being the next, so I have a strong appreciation and respect for those who earn their living by hand.  I also appreciated this play because it featured the working class.

I am a social historian at heart, so to watch this play was truly a treat and a learning experience. The scene that stuck out to me the most was when Oliver was talking with Miss Sutherland about his refusal to her offer. It reminded me a bit of Great Expectations and Joe. I thought of the conversation Pip and Joe had where Joe, even though he has the capacity to perhaps achieve greater things, decides he is satisfied with his honest way of living and would not change it. Pip of course did not understand why one would want to do that, just like Miss Sutherland had the same sort of reaction. In the play, Oliver says something that miners and painters just don’t mix. They are from two different worlds and they both speak two different languages, he would never be able to fit in. At first, I remember thinking, I really hope he takes this offer because he was an incredible artist. Then, when I saw the opening of the scene and he sat there waiting to tell her the answer, I just thought in my mind, don’t say yes. I don’t really know why I thought that, but I guess I knew too, like he did, that sometimes two different social scenes just cannot mix. In the end though, he was still proud of the work he did and who he was, and that was what was important.

I thought this was an excellent final play to end our time in London because it kind of brought together all of the central themes we had been discussing. From the ever popular juxtapositioning to class structure to identity. The moral of the story is to just be proud of where you come from, like we had learned with Dickens and other authors, and tonight I was definitely proud of my heritage.

Tags: Alli · readings

Growing Pains

September 8th, 2009 · No Comments

Whenever I have been observing other cultures, religions, and areas on our tours of London, this one quote from Brick Lane always resounds through my head: “If you mix with all these people, even if they are good people, you have to give up your culture to accept theirs. That’s how it is.” No matter how much some people try to create their lifestyle exactly like how it was from where they come from, it can never be quite exact. I believe that in order for people to adjust and live here in the United Kingdom they have to give up something of themselves because it is just not completely possible to fully live like they used to or want to. The results, I feel, can be both positive and negative.

One of the positives (and negatives) of having these many diverse cultures and religions all found throughout the UK and all trying to adjust, is that it can allow both for ignorance and knowledge. I am sure many people would look the other way when noticing, for example, the splendor of the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir and choose not to learn anything about their lifestyle or religion. They either keep their remarks and thoughts to themselves, or let it out in the form of harsh words and criticisms that do nothing for anybody but make things more complicated. Then there are people, like our group, who (somewhat) chose to visit the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir and tried to keep an open mind when learning about their lifestyle. We may not particularly agree with few or any part of their religion and lives, but I bet every one of us learned something about them. As much as the adjustment of a “new” culture into another can promote ignorance, I feel that it also gives a chance for further knowledge.

In the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Temple, I noticed their adaptions to living in the UK. One of the major things I noticed  that the temple was geared towards educating the public and those of their religion as well. Unlike the Sikh temple, who was not used to giving tours, the Shir Swaminarayan Mandir was clearly adept to giving tours to all those interested and curious. The museum and exhibition (namely called ‘Understanding Hinduism‘) was definitely geared towards those who either had little or no knowledge on their religion. It seemed that the Mandir made a concious choice to allow those curious about their religion to come in and be educated about it. After going through that museum, one could no longer claim they were “ignorant” about that religion.

Even though the Sikh Temple in Southall was a little less “showy” than the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, I think they also strove to make sure those interested in their lifestyle were educated. Even though they were a little less adept to giving tours to the curious public, they still had pamplets with information on their religion and even welcomed anyone to come and eat with them. Both the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir and the Sikh Temple allowed and welcomed visitors into their places of worship. In addition to giving tours, both religious institutions had libraries for anyone who wanted to browse and learn more. Even though their difference in beliefs and religion might divide them from others, people only have to come and learn more about them. This is partially what makes for these cultures to have trouble adjusting to a new one, for it does not help anyone when one culture refuses to learn about another. People, I feel, don’t want to take the time to find these possible parallels between other time periods, cultures and religions, but they are out there, all they have to do is learn.

Another part of the trouble of some of these religions’ adjustments or even trying to fully create this lifestyle close to home, is generations (mostly the second generations) that want to reject or modify the customs and practices. You see in White Teeth, for example, these conflicts in Magid and Millat, the twin boys of Samad, a man who grew up in Bangladesh. Magid is sent to Bangladesh to be brought up in the proper ways of Islamic teaching. Millat stays here in the UK and grows up and learns in a different manner. The complete opposite happens between the twin boys, for Millat becomes a religious radical and Magid becomes more “English”. These conflicts, whether positive or negative, are necessary for the advancement of a society and a religion. In every century, in every decade, religions and cultures are always being modified, even if it is just slightly. Even though I think that it is sometimes detrimental that these religions have to make some adjustments in order to reside here in the UK, it is the way of life and sometimes can even turn into a positive for their lifestyle.

Tags: Alli · readings

Change is Hard

September 8th, 2009 · No Comments

Identity…. What is that? I honestly don’t know. Just thinking about this topic makes my head spin. How do our surroundings influence our identity? Do we identify with something because WE choose or because of outside factors such as religion and education?  From what I absorbed from both the Sikh Gurdwara and the Hindu Mandir both faiths are more of a way of life rather than a religion. Both require life-long practice to even begin to understand. In Sikhism, the devotee is a constant student, trying to liberate the mind from the body to ascend into a state of ultimate knowledge and union with God. In Hinduism the ultimate goal is to break the cycle of life and death to remain eternally in the presence of God. So how do you take responsibility for your Karma in 21st century Britain? Can you take the religion/lifestyle out of its homeland? Certain customs and rituals have to be tweaked to ‘fit’ in the mainstream British culture. Sikhs are not allowed to carry their defensive swords because of certain laws, and some men have to cut their hair for certain jobs. The restrains of modern society make it more difficult for Sikhs and Hindus to observe certain traditional rites, but does this make them less “religious.” Personally, I don’t think so. When you are forced to adapt or willingly relocate somewhere else, everything changes, choices are made.

Some people have formed tight communities that don’t even attempt to make ties to their new environment, like the character Mrs. Suri in Salaam Brick Lane. Mrs. Suri and her network of Aunties have created their own version of India within each other’s living rooms. These people seek a comfort zone full of everything they know.  Other people rebel completely and break away form everything they know. The character of Clara in White Teeth completely turns her back on her Jehovah’s Witness background (and her mother) and severs all ties with her former life. Either way, a choice was made. I don’t light Shabbat candles every Friday night… does that make me a bad Jew? I still believe in what in God and I pray in my own way. I have adapted to my situation and made choices. You do what you think is right and then run with it. This is religion for the 21st century.  So what about tradition and education for the younger generations? I’m all for it… I think that both the Gurdwara and the Mandir have excellent education and community centers. The Mandir especially has gone above and beyond to provide the children in the area with a top-notch secular education as well as a religious education on the Hindu faith. Learning the traditions of your ancestors is wonderful, and it is important to remember the past. But ultimately, I think it is up to each individual person to decide his or her identity (whatever that may mean). Are you Hindu and British? Sikh and Welsh? Can you be both? Change is hard, but you can either resist or adapt.

I hope I will live to see the day when the world accepts everyone’s religion but right now that does not seem likely. People will keep being prejudiced and ignorant until they are otherwise educated on the subject. However, as Sikhism teaches us, this is a momentous obstacle. The Gurwara and the Mandir are helping the process by opening their sacred places to visitors off all backgrounds. Both faiths seem willing to teach outsiders and I felt that I received a warm welcome from both establishments. When you live in the modern UK adjustments have to be made due to secular laws. However, you are still free to practice whatever it is you believe. I still am not sure as to what identity means. All I know is that I have to be true to myself.

Tags: Grace · readings

Assigned Reading

July 8th, 2009 · 11 Comments

As I think we’re supposed to blog a bit about our assigned reading, I thought I’d start us all off while the first book is fresh in my mind.

I just finished reading Salaam Brick Lane and I enjoyed it more than any other summer reading books in recent memory. I liked both Hall’s colloquial writing style and the book’s format and approach to the topic, since I’m more partial to personal, first-hand accounts. I’ve always been interested in South Asian culture, and reading about the UK immigrant experience of Bangladeshis was an interesting, new perspective from what I’m used to reading.

However,  I most enjoyed reading about a side of London that many foreigners rarely hear about or see. Based on my visits there as a tourist and the pictures of London we get from films, TV, and other forms of media, I have always had a vision of London as a quieter, more civilized, cleaner-cut big sister to New York City. I live about an hour outside of Manhattan and it has always seemed to be a chaotic jumble of people living on top of each other in a small area, but I enjoy London because it often seemed a little more prim and proper and orderly, both in person and in the media. I now realize that London does indeed have these areas, and that I know next to nothing about the areas outside of the main tourist circuit. I was always looking forward to scratching below the tourist surface of London, but after reading Salaam Brick Lane, I’m even more excited for learning about the many faces of the city, specifically the different immigrant cultures and experiences.

Since no one else has blogged about reading yet, I’m not sure if this is the sort of response we were supposed to come back with, but I thought I might as well get going with something before it becomes hazy when I move on to the next book. I also was a bit confused about all the reading that’s expected of us before we arrive in England: Are we supposed to have read the fictional account of life in the East End and Ms. Dalloway in addition to Hall, Schama, Wilson and Shakespeare before the London course starts, or will we be reading them there? I assume it would be best for us to have read them beforehand, but I wanted to make sure to leave time for them in my reading list this summer if we’re expected to have read them by the time we arrive.

Tags: readings

London preparations

June 19th, 2009 · 2 Comments

Wow, what a busy couple of weeks. But what a joy it has been reading and, in some cases, re-reading good literature. My days have been filled mostly with trying to arrange for various events in London, get our home ready for our departure, finish up my duties on campus, and learn about my new duties in Norwich. But my evenings have frequently found me curled up in bed with Virginia Woolf, Buchi Emecheta, and Zadie Smith. I don’t think my wife minds sharing her bed with these women! 😉 I love ending the day reading a good novel, and I have not been disappointed with my selections so far. I hope that students enjoy these readings and find them as useful to understanding some parts of London as I have. I’m sure that you all will tell me eventually whether you like my selections or not.

Tags: Professor Qualls · readings


June 13th, 2009 · 1 Comment

For anyone interested in racial politics in England today, i started reading “There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack” by Paul Gilroy, it was recommended to me by Professor Ball (history department) and so far it’s pretty good stuff!

=] Flow

Tags: readings