privacy policy

At the Margins of the Empire Making Project: Masters, Servants and Household in Colonial India


· Svetlana Sidorova Institute of Oriental Studies of the Ruusin Academy (Moscow, Russia)


07/27 | 15:30-15:50 UTC+2/CEST


This paper is based on the analysis of the account books of Lord Richard Wellesley, Governor-General of Bengal (1798-1805) and the architect of the British Indian Empire. These books by means of figures and expenditure items tell a detailed story about the British household in India, about dozens of servants, material objects, activities and expenses that formed and maintained the everyday routine and regularity of colonial life. It ran on the background of the great historical processes the main subjects of which were the British civil and military officers as representatives of the conquering nation and the conquered native population regarded by the formers as taxpayers and producers of colonial goods. However in the private space of British homes in India the same actors played different roles of householders and household servants. It was this particular location where the colonial encounter acquired extremely tight and intimate character. The paper focuses on a group of domestic workers hidden behind the bungalows’ doors, often invisible and silent in historical retrospective, who ensured uninterrupted functioning of the colonial houses and secured the permanent daily life circle. Thereby they turned the British households in a locus of stability, conservatism and in some sense of marginality because lacking in dynamism this structure could hardly be considered as a motivity of colonial project. Instead it created a widespread institutional matrix for its sustainability and longevity to which Indian servants contributed a lot.