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De Montfort University

History of Art and Material Culture

Case Study Report, September 2003

Dr Richard Fynes:


Background Report 1
Background Report 2
Studies in Material Culture: Contemporary Crafts Course Outline
Cultural Identity Course Outline
Studies in Material Culture: Contemporary Crafts Bibliography
Cultural Identity Bibliography

NB. For pdf versions of the course outlines and bibliographies please go to the GLAADH Resources section and then choose Initiatives Course Materials or Initiatives Bibliographies and scroll down the index.



The setting of the Initiative was the Faculty of Art and Design, De Montfort University, Leicester. The subproject began shortly after our initial application to GLAADH in January 2002 and is continuing. The project was based in the Department of the History Art and Material Culture (HAMC), with input from members of Prasada (shortly to be renamed the Centre for South Asian Arts). The main staff involved were Dr Richard Fynes, who managed the subproject, Mr Peter Walton, acting Head of HAMC, Dr Emily Baines, Dr Crispin Branfoot, and Dr Eiluned Edwards. The students involved were single and joint honours HAMC students and also students taking Fine Arts or studio-based subjects who had chosen to take the HAMC modules which were part of the project.

The issue that was being addressed was the HAMC curriculum, which was felt to be too Eurocentric. The main factor that triggered our subproject was the availability of staff in Prasada, who, taken together, had a wide-ranging knowledge of South Asian arts and crafts.


There were two parts to the DMU subproject: firstly, the introduction of material on South Asian arts and crafts into two HAMC undergraduate modules, Cultural Identities and Contemporary Crafts, and, secondly, the development of a website to support students taking these modules and also those with a general interest in South Asian arts. Part of the GLAADH funding was used to purchase books to enable staff to develop their knowledge of South Asian arts and crafts.

The Cutural Identity module was led by Dr Emily Baines. After discussion, it was decided that Dr Richard Fynes would introduce two case studies on a South Asian topic into the module. The first of these focused on the way Gandhi throughout his life changed his dress and appearance to make symbolic statements about his religious, social and political beliefs. The second case study was about the use of space in South Asian domestic settings. As part of this presentation students were shown a video film about a Swaminarayan family in Leicester. The film showed the family cooking, eating, and worshipping at home, as well as participating in social and religious activities in the local Swaminarayan temple. The Contemporary Crafts module was also led by Dr Emily Baines. Dr Richard Fynes led a session on the status, presentation, and cultural background of crafts in South Asia. This led to two further, more specialised sessions. Dr Richard Fynes gave a presentation which focused on jewellery and marriage in a South Asian setting, and Dr Eiluned Edwards gave a presentation on the manufacture and use of fabrics in Kutcch in western India. It had been hoped to give a session on the presentation of South Asian crafts in a museum setting, but unfortunately this could not take place due to the member of staff concerned having a timetable clash that could not be resolved.

One factor which was both a constraint and an opportunity was the University's decision to make major changes to the curriculum from September 2004. This meant that Contemporary Crafts and Cultural Identities would no longer run after the academic year 2003/4, and the constraint was that it was not considered worthwhile to attempt a root and branch revision of these modules. The opportunity the curriculum changes provided was the possibility of a more focused integration of the study of world arts into the new curriculum.

It was initially decided that the website should have three main sections, one devoted to South Indian temple architecture, another devoted to Jain art from western India, and a third devoted to textiles from Gujarat in western India. After attending the Glaadh workship in 2002, we first decided to opt for a 'low-tech' option of quickly scanning various images and placing them on a platform such as Windows Access. However, after discussion with various IT specialists within the Faculty, we decided that the best option would be to have our images scanned to a high resolution, as this would give us a firmer basis should we decide to develop further this part of the subproject in the future. As part of our initial application to GLAADH, we had applied for funding for a scanner, digital camera, and for software to support the website. However, we soon realised that this would be unnecessary, since there was another web-based project within the Faculty that would allows us to use their resources and manpower at discounted rates. This enabled us to concentrate more of our resources into man-hours spent managing the project, scanning the images, and developing the website. The website has been registered as We decided to first develop the section on textiles from western India, using images from the Leicester Museums' collection Indian textiles held at Belgrave House, Leicester. The website is not yet operational, although we hope to have part of it up and running in August 2003. For the reasons for this, see below.


The introduction of the South Asian element into the two HAMC modules was successful. Students engaged with the material in seminars, and some chose to submit essays with a South Asian focus as part of their assessment. It is hoped to let GLAADH have one or two sample essays for inclusion on the website, once the students have been contacted and given their permission. Although, as mentioned above, the two modules will not run after the academic year commencing September 2004, our work has by no means been ephemeral. Teaching and preparing the two modules gave staff useful insights into the way material on South Asia can be successfully incorporated into student learning. The experience gained stands us in good stead as we prepare our new curriculum, and we are currently preparing two new year one modules for 2004, Theories and Practices and Introduction to Architecture and design, each of which will have a substantial element on South Asian arts and crafts. In the new curriculum, students will have the opportunity to develop projects, dissertations, and possibly go on placements, with a South Asian focus.

The development of the website has been slower than we hoped. Our decision was to begin with material held by Leicester Museums. This led to a hiatus in our planning when the contact we were working with in the Museums' Services left to take up another post in June. However, we have some good quality images scanned from the collection, and Dr Eiluned Edwards has committed to producing some descriptive text to go with the images when she returns from fieldwork in July. IT staff at De Montfort are on hand to design the website as soon as we can provide them with some text. We still hope to go online in August 2003.

The Initiative is continuing and will continue to inform our curriculum development. Overall, the Initiative has been valuable in validating a world arts focus in De Montfort, and also in widening the horizons of the staff involved.

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