February 14th was a special day for members of The East India Company at Home, 1757-1857 project, for on Valentines Day our new UCL project website went live. You can view this portal to our project at www.ucl.ac.uk/eicah. The website is central to the project as we use it to communicate with members of the public and with the more than 225 people who are affiliated as Project Associates. We work together with these people to create research about East India Company officials and their families who returned to Britain in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century after working in India. Together we explore what material objects these returned families brought with them from India. We question where and with whom these objects were placed, what they meant and how they were used. We also examine the country houses they bought, built, rented and renovated to understand how these imperial families shaped the domestic spaces and material cultures of Britain.
Research is compiled through writing case studies that focus on a particular person, family, country house or object. Case studies are made publically available through the project website and we encourage visitors to the site to comment and make suggestions on the research we post. Alongside research completed by members of the academic team, Project Associates from a variety of backgrounds (local and family historians, archivists, curators, heritage sector professionals, independent scholars, students and academics) also contribute case studies. For instance, local historian Georgina Green wrote our second case study on Valentines Mansion and Gardens in Essex.
Working on particular research questions with our group of Project Associates is a relatively new approach to historical research. It involves time and effort both on the part of the project team members, but also on the part of the Project Associates. Alongside the website, a monthly newsletter keeps Associates informed of the project’s progress, Tweets alert people to more immediate news and emails fly around passing information and making contacts. Outside of cyberspace the project team has met Associates in person through arranged meetings and organised Study Days at the British Library, the University of Edinburgh and in a couple of months, at the National Museum of Wales. We have also reached out to people through talks at Osterley Park and House, Valentines Mansion and Gardens and various conferences. Why you may ask go to these lengths? Why not just spend time in the archive? Quite simply, by reaching out to new people who are conducting research on or around the topic we have gained access to new seams of sources and findings. Project Associates have produced case studies on diverse topics from Charles Raymond to Sir Francis Sykes and from Chinese Chippendale staircases in Anglesey to armorial porcelain in Staffordshire. It has made this project’s scope broader and deeper than we could have managed as a four-person team. It has also made doing our research great fun. Obviously though you don’t have to take my word for it, you can begin to see the benefits for yourself by visiting our website (www.ucl.ac.uk/eicah) or by joining the project and following it as an Associate.
Dr Kate Smith
Kate Smith is a Research Fellow on the project ‘The East India Company at Home, 1757-1857’, based in the Department of History at University College London. Find out more about the project here – http://ucl.ac.uk/eicah/