Unmaking the East India Company: British Art and Political Reform in Colonial India, c. 1813-1858 (Paul Mellon Centre, 2023) by Dr. Tom Young illuminates how new modes of artistic production in colonial India shaped the British state’s nationalisation of the East India Company, transforming the relationship between nation and empire.
This pioneering book explores how art shaped the nationalisation of the East India Company between the loss of its primary monopoly in 1813 and its ultimate liquidation in 1858. Challenging the idea that parliament drove political reform, it argues instead that the Company’s political legitimacy was destabilised by novel modes of artistic production in colonial India. New artistic forms and practices—the result of new technologies like lithography and steam navigation, middle-class print formats like the periodical, the scrapbook and the literary annual, as well as the prevalence of amateur sketching among Company employees—reconfigured the colonial regime’s racial boundaries and techniques of governance. They flourished within transimperial networks, integrating middle-class societies with new political convictions and moral disciplines, and thereby eroding the aristocratic corporate cultures that had previously structured colonial authority in India.
Unmaking the East India Company contributes to a reassessment of British art as a global, corporate and intrinsically imperial phenomenon—highlighting the role of overlooked media, artistic styles and print formats in crafting those distinctions of power and identity that defined ‘Britishness’ across the world.
This interview was conducted by Dr. Miranda Melcher whose doctoral work focused on post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with qualitative analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars.