Unruly Images Representing India in the Calwer Bilder-Tafeln zur Länder- und Völker-Kunde (1883)

Main Article Content

Philippe Bornet


The contribution focuses on a volume published by a German Christian press related to a missionary society in 1883 and offering a visual panorama of all the world’s cultures in 1,690 engravings. Most images were reproductions of original documents that had initially appeared in different editorial contexts, ranging from missionary periodicals to secular travel magazines and British colonial literature. This study examines the message that the volume’s editors wanted to convey: a message presenting the extra-European world as devoid of historical agency, non-Christian religions as false, and the presence of western agents – in particular, missionaries – as providential. Retracing the life story of a few images, I show that some of them communicated these notions better than others. For example, engravings manufactured after photographs were often not as polemical as those made after drawings, for the simple reason of the mediatic characteristics of photography. Complicating the critical reading of the images as simply representing missionary propaganda, I argue that a volume like the one examined here is best understood when placed within a transnational (or connected) history of visual practices.

Article Details

Articles - CfP topic
Author Biography

Philippe Bornet, University of Lausanne

Philippe Bornet is senior lecturer at the University of Lausanne, in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations. After stays in Tübingen and at the University of Chicago, he completed a PhD in the comparative history of religions on rituals of hospitality in Jewish and Indian texts. His current research deals with the study of comparison as a method, the history of interactions between India and Europe, with a focus on Swiss missionaries in South India, and the circulation of material and visual cultures. Recent publications include Religions in Play (2012) (ed. with M. Burger), "Masters" and "Natives": Digging the Others' Past (2019) (ed. with S. Gorshenina) and Translocal Lives and Religion: Connections between Asia and Europe in Late Modernity (2021).