Charles Bell's collection of 'curios': negotiating Tibetan material culture on the Anglo-Tibetan borderlands (1900-1945)

PhD defended at: 

SOAS

Author: 

Emma Martin

Defended: 

2014

Sir Charles Bell (1870-1945) the diplomat, Tibetologist and writer continues to be one of the most recognizable names from the Anglo-Tibetan encounter that played out in the Himalayan borderlands during the early twentieth century. Not only did he write a series of authoritative books on Tibet, but he considered himself a personal friend of the thirteenth Dalai Lama. Less well known are his collecting activities. Therefore this thesis, for the most part, steps away from his diplomatic achievements focusing instead on a rethinking of Bell, his ‘curios’ and the spaces they occupied. A new material perspective is presented that reassesses how Charles Bell became knowledgeable about Tibet and using objects and archives it traces out previously unknown institutions, agencies and agendas that informed his collecting practices. Furthermore, this thesis reveals the contested histories inherent in many Tibetan objects by highlighting a series of silenced narratives that reconnect objects to a turbulent period in modern Tibetan history. What emerges is a new approach to Tibetan objects, one that is not contingent on religion or art historical approaches, but which acknowledges the highly politicized diplomatic arenas objects operated in during the latter stages of colonial rule in India.

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