The James Ford Lectures : Material Cultures and Homes

Family and Empire: Kinship and British Colonialism in the East India Company Era, c. 1750-1850 

Speaker: Professor Margot Finn (President of the RHS & Chair in Modern British History at University College London)

Both Georgian and Victorian understandings of the family were rooted in conceptions of domesticity and home.  What types of homes did the Company’s propertied ruling class inhabit on the subcontinent, and how did their South Asian modes of domesticity compare and contrast with their domestic lives in Britain?  This lecture explores the ways in which the extended households that contemporaries denominated ‘families’—baggy congeries of blood kin, in-laws, subordinates and hangers-on—functioned to perpetuate Company rule both on the subcontinent and in Britain.  Stuffed full of ‘stuff’—artwork, porcelain, textiles, furniture, books, manuscripts and looted war trophies—Company homes were key sites for the making of both domestic and imperial meanings.  As built environments that were centres of genteel sociability and parliamentary politics, they functioned to police lines of inclusion and exclusion.  Too often accepted as the icon of an English or British ‘island nation’, the country house emerges from scrutiny of the Company family as a conspicuous emblem of imperialism at home.