Landscaping India: From Colony to Postcolony

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Crystal Bartolovich

Second Advisor

Don Mitchell


Hegemony, India, Landscape, Nationalism, Scale, Space

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature | Geography | South and Southeast Asian Languages and Societies


Landscaping India investigates the use of landscapes in colonial and anti-colonial representations of India from the mid-nineteenth to the early-twentieth centuries. It examines literary and cultural texts in addition to, and along with, "non-literary" documents such as departmental and census reports published by the British Indian government, popular geography texts and text-books, travel guides, private journals, and newspaper reportage to develop a wider interpretative context for literary and cultural analysis of colonialism in South Asia. Drawing of materialist theorizations of "landscape" developed in the disciplines of geography, literary and cultural studies, and art history, Landscaping India examines the colonial landscape as a product of colonial hegemony, as well as a process of constructing, maintaining and challenging it. In so doing, it illuminates the conditions of possibility for, and the historico-geographical processes that structure, the production of the Indian nation.

The dissertation begins by examining the concept of the nation in spatial-temporal terms, and as imbricated in the uneven and global processes of capitalism. The next two chapters examine the deployment of landscape in British and Indian literary and cultural productions at two specific local sites. The second chapter focuses on British and Indian contestation of the landscape of the colonial city of Calcutta, the capital of British Indian space. The third chapter focuses on the British claims and Indian counter-claims over the Himalayan landscape. Both chapters demonstrate how the Indians counter the British landscaping of these sites to produce their own counter-conceptions. In other words, it shows how Indians appropriate for themselves the landscapes of Calcutta and the Himalaya.

The fourth chapter examines the idealization and idolization of the Indian landscape in Vande Mataram (1882), the national song of the post-colonial Indian nation-state, and its role in structuring the idea of India as a motherland. I argue that while the song's anti-colonial spatial imagination is inspired by the quotidian reality of British India ravaged by famines, its reliance on a pastoral ethos and Hindu "commonsense" also posits the laboring classes and Muslims as outsiders to India, in addition to gesturing towards a patriarchal and hetero-normative national ethos. The fifth and final chapter examines the nation as a scalar manifestation of the landscape form, and explores the contending conceptions of the Indian nation-space, and Indians, in Rudyard Kipling's Kim (1901) and Rabindranath Tagore's Gora (1907). It investigates how these novels address the questions of belonging to India, and "Indian-ness," by interrogating, in particular, the novels' depictions of their Irish foundling protagonists. The chapter contends that Tagore's idea of the nation as a universal space of humanity repudiates Kipling's imperialist vision of India as a space of irredeemable difference, and highlights how Tagore's articulation of "India" and "the Indian," provides a dissenting perspective from contemporaneous trends in anti-colonial nationalism that assumed a decidedly Hindu tenor. The chapter also highlights how Tagore, by focusing on the scale of the home, and the inequitable gendered division of labor within it, critiques Indian nationalists for their refusal to incorporate a critique of gender inequality and patriarchy within the framework of national liberation.


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