The Archive as an Object and its Contemporary Meanings

By Zeb Bilal.

Published by The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The role of the museum is being radically altered from a conventional institution exhibiting objects of heritage to a more dynamic one—reaching out to educate, collaborate and make viewers participants in the process of understanding the narratives that museum objects embody. This paper favors this altered vision of the museum in the case of the “Watson Catalogues” —an archival object, currently inaccessible to museum visitors and stored in the archives section in the Lahore Museum, in Pakistan. In 1866, J. Forbes Watson, a Reporter for the Products of India, at the India office compiled these catalogue volumes titled ‘Collections of the Textile Manufactures of India’. Watson conceived these catalogues as ‘Portable Trade Museums’ and highlighted the cultural and commercial ‘dynamism’ attached to them. Envisioning these Catalogues both as an ‘object’ and as a ‘portable museum’ this paper investigates their significance as an ethnographic document and analyses their contents as simultaneously being representative of the textile heritage of 19th century India and an embodiment of the mercantilist aspirations of the British empire. Ultimately the catalogues are examined as a means to facilitate pluralistic understandings of the textile heritage of 19th century India and approaches to make the Catalogues accessible to a wider audience both in and beyond the Lahore museum are proposed.

Keywords: Role of the Museum, Archival Objects, J. Forbes Watson, Textile Heritage of 19th Century India

International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp.13-26. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.004MB).

Zeb Bilal

Graduate Researcher and Visiting Faculty, Textile Department, Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, Pakistan

Zeb Bilal is a visiting faculty and graduate researcher at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, Pakistan. Formally trained as a Textile designer, her forte is weave design. She is currently exploring sub-continental textile traditions with an emphasis on apparel textiles and fashions in her Masters dissertation. The author is particularly interested in exploring how textile history can be a used as a source of inspiration and learning both in the academic setting and as a practical design tool. She views the Museum as an ideal starting point to locate cultural and traditional textile heritage and therefore has been researching at the Lahore Museum.

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