Tuning Modernity: Musical Knowledge and Subjectivities in Colonial India, c. 1780s - c. 1900

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Subho Basu

Second Advisor

Sudipta Sen


Colonialism and Music, Indian Music History, Sourindramohan Tagore, South Asian History, William Jones

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


This dissertation studies two signal moments of intervention in the musical field in colonial India: (i) the late-eighteenth century moment of Orientalist scholarship, specifically, the appearance in 1792 of Sir William Jones' "On the Musical Modes of the Hindoos," which fundamentally reconfigured the way musics of the Indian subcontinent would be studied thereafter; and (ii) the mid/late-nineteenth century moment that witnessed the first efforts among the colonized to self-consciously produce themselves as modern musical subjects. My enquiry into these two fertile passages in India's music history is an attempt to disentangle the set of musico-historical processes that enliven a larger question: what is modern--colonial modern, to be precise--about a music and musical culture that claims a continuous tradition of cultivation over thousands of years? In approaching this question, this dissertation not only addresses the epistemological aspect of musical modernity in the Indian colony, it also looks at two new forms of musical subjectivity inaugurated therein over the course of colonialism's unfolding--one short-lived and one enduring. The former, the Anglo-Indian musical subject, was enlivened in and through the sites of British leisure in late-eighteenth century India--a time when `nautch' had already emerged as the colonizers' favored form of entertainment. It ultimately perished once the contingencies of colonial rule changed, and avenues of European recreation became more easily available and accessible over the nineteenth century. The other form of musical subjectivity that this dissertation enquires into is that of the nineteenth century Bengali Bhadralok. In tracing the genesis of this subject, I look at three pivotal figures: Dwarkanath Tagore, Rammohan Roy, and Sourindramohan Tagore. I show that while early stirrings of musical modernity can be evidenced in the first two, as a systemic process it congealed only during the era of Sourindramohan in the last third on the nineteenth century.


Surface provides description only. Full text is available to ProQuest subscribers. Ask your Librarian for assistance.