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Architecture and the Female Eye Witness: Maria Graham’s Writings on India and South America, 1808-1826
Supported by grant of the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art, this project examines architectural reportage in female travel writing between Latin America, Europe, and India through the works of the British author Maria Graham (1785-1842). Besides significant contributions to art criticism and history, Maria Graham was more than well-travelled and adept at publishing her impressions in an accessible tone. She had visited south and east India between 1808 and 1811, staying in Madras, Calcutta, and Ceylon, and later published the Journal of a Residence in India (1812), particularly aimed at supplementing more specialised, jargon-heavy works on the subcontinent. The years between 1821 to 1826 she spent in South America, arriving in Brazil on the brink of the declaration of an independent Empire and later progressing to Chile which had been independent since 1818 and where she remained – now widowed – until 1824. Upon her return, again via Brazil, to Britain, Graham published her extensive South American travel journals in two instalments. Throughout her writings, Graham draws up comparisons and reflects on both her own background as well as her new surroundings in a sometimes surprisingly unbiased, direct manner. Documenting the encounter with both the colonised as well as the newly independent nation state and its spaces, these writings help to understand networks of transatlantic exchange, the female longing for the unknown, or urge for adventure, as well as the expectations women had of urban and domestic spaces in their destinations. This project traces both canonical and everyday spaces documented and commented on in Graham’s writings. It explores specific modes of description and emphasis on architectural topics, such as styles, new buildings or architectural events, the relationship between private and public spaces, or forms of accepted conduct linked to specific spaces. But its focus lies on circumstantial descriptions which can provide an exclusively female perspective on architectural experience. Its aim is to open up this type of literature – women’s (travel) writing ¬– to studies of architectural experience as well as architecture’s role in the public sphere.
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