25 October 2023

Nuno Grancho gave a conference paper at Harvard, MIT and Brown Universities

Our PRIVACY Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow Nuno Grancho presented a paper entitled “Domestic Space, Race and Gender in the Eighteenth-Century Danish Colonial Home” and moderated the Workshop: “Quilt! Inclusivity in Eighteenth-Century Studies” at the International Conference of the Historians of Eighteenth-Century Art and Architecture (HECAA): Environments, Materials, and Futures in the Eighteenth Century, that took place from 11 until 14th October at MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The conference was organised by HECAA-Historians of Eighteenth-Century Art and Architecture, with the support of UMass Boston; MIT's History, Theory + Criticism of Architecture and Art and Art Culture and Technology programs, the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, the Department of Architecture, the Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning, Philip Khoury, Associate Provost and Ford International Professor of History, and the Arts at MIT; at Brown University, the Brown University Arts Initiative, the Dean of the Faculty, the History of Art and Architecture Department, and the Saxena Center for Contemporary South Asia; the Art History Department and the Leslie Center for the Humanities at Dartmouth College; the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS); and a History of Art Grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.


Please describe your paper and your research perspective for our readers

My paper was about the eighteenth-century Danish colonial home in India. In terms of its structure, design, function, and furnishings, the eighteenth-century home was a place where spaces, identities, and practises were transformed. Although the eighteenth century is frequently associated with ‘drinking tea at tables made of polished mahogany’ in the common imagination, a much wider world of experience needs to be introduced and examined in more detail by academia. How ideas of the home and domesticity can illuminate readings of gender, race, bodily autonomy, and the cartographies of domestic space in the lengthy eighteenth century is one area that frequently goes unnoticed and that deserves full attention by architectural historians and urban historians.

My paper allowed me to address this oversight by asking “what race has to do with” domestic space, gender, and bodily autonomy in the eighteenth-century Danish urban settlements in India, Tranquebar and Serampore. The racial and gendered distinction between public and private domains in terms of the Danish colonial house locates the spatial question at the centre of Danish colonial life. By examining architectural representations, eighteenth-century descriptions of Danish-Indian life, and probate inventories of Danish residents of Tranquebar and Serampore, I suggested that the significance of a model of domestic life in colonial Denmark formulated on a fundamentally different premise from that of practices in Denmark – on an overlap of public and private spheres – may be revealed in approaching the problem of domesticity in terms of its spatial dynamics.

How and where did the conference take place?

The conference took place at Harvard, MIT and Brown Universities, Cambridge and Providence, USA. My panel’s location was at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and later at the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Boston. This last was the perfect set for an emphasis on race, gender, and how the cultural legacies of colonialism, racism, and social injustice in the eighteenth century (as well as today) shape our discussions of art and architecture. The Royall House and Slave Quarters function today as a site of memory. The Royall family, the largest slaveholding family in Massachusetts in the eighteenth century, lived on the plantation with at least sixty other people who were held as slaves and whose forced labour contributed to the Royall family's wealth. Today’s house-museum records their lives, the intertwined tales of wealth and bondage in pre-Revolutionary Massachusetts, and the resistance and political and legal activism of enslaved and free Black people in the eighteenth century. It is one of the few remaining freestanding quarters where enslaved people lived and worked in the North USA. Therefore, the place was the perfect ‘floor’ for me and the other panellists, bringing meaning and purpose to our research.

What about the Workshop you moderated?

The "Workshop: Quilt! Inclusivity in Eighteenth-Century Studies" invited conference attendees to reflect, exchange ideas, and engage in experiments regarding an equitable, inclusive, and expansive scholarship of eighteenth-century art and architecture. The workshop drew inspiration from quilts and collaborative creative practises. The participants were divided into groups, and for about an hour, each group worked on—or "sewed"—resources and ideas around—a predetermined topic. It was encouraged that these professional and scholarly activity themes overlap. Participants were expected to gain knowledge from discussions about various contexts and topics related to research, teaching, and curation.

Did you get any comments from the audience that you can use for further research in the topic?

Yes, firstly I was asked how the private and public realms separated in the Danish colonial home in India. I argued that the colonial ‘home’ model in Tranquebar and Serampore was formulated on an overlap of domestic space in public and private spheres and blurred boundaries of domestic space in public and private domains. The hypermasculine world of colonial India, the monarchic ideal of separate spheres for men and women found an exaggerated expression in the separation of the colonial house. As marginal figures, who often disturbed both the masculine image and the occupation of running an empire, the appropriate role of Danish women was limited to gracing the household, creating a semblance of ‘home’. The first principle of the Danish-Indian home was to prevent native India from approaching or having an effect.

This statement was thought-provoking for the following question about race in the Danish colonial home. I argued that the Indian architecture of the houses, the native artefacts in the household, not to mention the multitude of servants that one was compelled to keep, made impossible to ‘keep India at bay’. The alternative was to negotiate racial differences in the household by assigning objects, people, and tasks to a specific place in a rationalised system. The principles of similarity and difference found a specific utility for negotiating foreign cultural norms within the household.

At some times, and for some purposes, the Danes conceived the Indians as people like themselves, or as people who could be transformed into something resembling a facsimile of themselves; while at other times they emphasised what they believed to be enduring qualities of Indian difference. Sometimes, indeed, they simultaneously accommodated both views in their thinking, making it perilously difficult to discern any larger system at all.

Will your paper be published?

The research included in the paper will be part of a larger work in my forthcoming book in 2024 entitled A History of Privacy in Danish and Indian Architecture: Urbanism of Colonialism, published by Routledge in their “Routledge Architecture Series.” This will be my modest contribution to the emerging field of Arts and Humanities of Privacy Studies.