Unmaking the East India Company:
British Art and Political Reform in Colonial India, c. 1813–1858

Tom Young

Publicaton Date
June 2023
Standard Number
Yale University Press
304 pages, 254 x 190 mm
80 colour b-w illus.

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.

About the author

  • Tom Young is a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow in the History of Art Department at the University of Warwick