The Enlightenment in late 18th Century Calcutta: Sir William Jones and his botanical interests

Date: 1 October 2019

Time: 6:30 pm - 7:30 pm

Location: MIA Auditorium

Part of the MIA Education

with Dr Jochen Sokoloy, Associate Professor of Art History, VCU-Qatar

The study of natural history in colonial late 18th century India was part of the great quest of the Enlightenment to discover new knowledge and explain the world rationally. British colonialists in Asia, Africa and Australia began to map the unknown natural world and record and publish their finds. What perhaps often started out as an amateurish interest in natural science, perhaps in search of "Arcadia", became the basis of serious scientific enquiry and the establishment of learned institutions that have survived and contributed to scholarship until the present.

The collection of drawings and watercolours that once belonged to the scholar of Persian literature Sir William Jones, is such an example. It contains studies of plants that surrounded the Jones's in their garden near Calcutta, and which both his wife and the famous late Mughal draftsman and painter Zayn al-Din began to record, intended for later publication. The lecture will present examples from this hitherto almost unknown and unpublished collection, and consider the genesis of the project that the Jones's embarked on with the help of Zayn al-Din, drawing on Jones's diaries and letters, but also on the notes on plants by Lady Jones. The lecture will raise questions of cultural exchange between two British patrons and their late Mughal Indian artist.

MIA is delighted to welcome Dr Jochen Sokoly to deliver our first lecture in celebration of the Qatar India Year of Culture.  Dr Sokoloy  holds a D.Phil from the University of Oxford and specializes in the Arts and Architecture of the Islamic World with a focus on the early Caliphates. He has taught at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar since 2004, where he also curated numerous exhibitions on art and design. Amongst other publications, as a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society, London, Dr. Sokoly has most recently published on British India.


Drawing from the collection of Sir William Jones